We haven’t been able to watch competitive drafts in a long time, but Magic World Championship XXVII this year changed that a little. Despite the fact that the event was held on Arena, making it easy for coverage to have data about the entire draft, we can only see the two drafts that were featured in the broadcast, which feels like a shocking missed opportunity to really see how a whole table of skilled players drafting for pod play functions, but we must work with what we have. Today I’ll be offering my own commentary on Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Seth Manfield’s drafts. Paulo has already recorded a video offering his own thoughts on his draft, so I’ll be responding to that for his draft, to comment on his actual thought process.
For his first pick, Paulo says he narrowed his choices immediately to two removal spells, Eaten Alive and Borrowed Time. Personally, I would also at least consider Falcon Abomination. Paulo mentions that the strength of each color was a factor, and that he considers black a stronger color than white. He says he thinks blue and black are roughly tied, but he thinks black is stronger. Personally, I think blue is stronger, but his belief that black is stronger is consistent with considering Eaten Alive and not Falcon Abomination here, not because he should consider the black card because he thinks black is stronger, but that he thinks black is stronger because he values the removal more highly than the blue Zombie token-making cards.
Personally, I think I would actually pick Falcon Abomination here. As you likely know, I prefer a data-driven approach to drafting where available, and Falcon Abomination wins about 2% more than Eaten Alive in 17Lands data both in general and in Dimir specifically. Traditionally, removal is generally considered more important than common creatures, but the abundance of strong removal discounts the importance of any particular removal spells both by offering more options later in the draft and by pushing players to play fewer creatures that removal spells are really good against.
After his discussion of the two cards he was really considering, he mentions Falcon Abomination and Seize the Storm as the other relevant cards in the pack, which I agree with. I’d take Falcon Abomination in his seat, but I think taking any of those four cards could be defensible for certain styles or preferences.
In the next pack, Paulo just states that Hound Tamer is much better than the other cards. I agree that it’s strong, but I think Revenge of the Drowned is comparable (again, Revenge has the higher win rate, though I want it to be very clear that I’m mentioning that as supporting evidence, as I think it means something, but not proof). Paulo mentions that he strongly doesn’t want to play Selesnya, considering it the single worst archetype, but that he wants to draft flexibly and might not use both cards together. Still, if he’s trying to avoid Selesnya, I think I’d take the Revenge here.
His third pack is very weak, so he takes Flip the Switch, which I think is clearly correct. but comments that he thinks it’s overrated as a card, again, clearly showing that he doesn’t value making Zombie tokens very highly. He mentions that Vampire Socialite is the strongest card, but that there’s no way he can use either of his other cards with it. I agree with all of that and think it shouldn’t be a consideration unless you have an active preference for drafting Rakdos.
Fourth pick he takes Ecstatic Awakener as the strongest card, and I agree with both that assessment and the pick.
Fifth pick he identifies that despite the fact that he hasn’t seen white cards, the fact that two white commons (in my opinion the two best white commons) are there with the Fleshtaker shows that white might be open, and the fourth-pick Ecstatic Awakener suggests black might be open, especially with the Siege Zombie still in the pack. Identifying that his best information in that moment points to playing Orzhov, he decides to take the Orzhov card that he thinks is strongest if he plays both colors rather than hedging with a monocolored card.
I think the pick between that and Lunarch Veteran for higher flexibility is very close, but I suspect that Paulo values Lunarch Veteran less highly than I do, as that’s a card that most players who don’t trust 17Lands data will like less than most players who do, and his commentary and picks make it clear that it’s not a substantial consideration in his card evaluations.
Sixth pick he takes Crawl from the Cellar without much deliberation, which I think is reasonable, I don’t think Bat Whisperer is a lot worse, but I don’t object to seeing that pick as “close but clear”— they’re commons of the same color, so if you prefer one even by a little bit, you don’t need to think too much about the other, especially while he doesn’t have enough cards to really provide a lot of context about what his deck is doing.
Seventh pick he mentions that the pack is weak, and he took Seize the Storm because he doesn’t think he’ll miss the other cards and he’s hoping he’ll table the Seize the Storm from the first pack, and it’s more likely that he’ll table that given he’s seeing one seventh pick. I think it’s totally reasonable to take the shot there — he may or may not table the other one, but he knows that in two picks he’ll get a very clear signal that he should either pivot into red because he was able to table Seize the Storm or abandon red because he only has one red card and he’d be fighting to use it with the other player at the table.
While he doesn’t mention it, this is in pod play, and if someone did take the Seize the Storm from his pack, they might have done it hoping to table this one that they’d already seen, and he prevents that from happening, possibly taking one of the best cards out of their deck. This is a very minor advantage, as it’s only worth it if it hurts them around eight times as much as the other card would help him, but that actually might be the case here, though again, that wouldn’t justify the pick without all the other advantages it offers.
Eighth pick Paulo deliberates between Unruly Mob and Neonate’s Rush and takes the Neonate’s Rush, which I agree with. It’s a huge boon if he ends up with the second Seize the Storm, and I actually think he overrates Unruly Mob, which I’d really hope to avoid playing in Orzhov.
Ninth pick he doesn’t table Seize the Storm, which I think should put him off red, so he takes the Bat Whisperer, which I think is clearly the best card to take here.
Tenth he takes Brimstone Vandal over Blood Pact, which, I agree, basically doesn’t matter. He mentions that some players told him he should have taken Blood Pact in case he ends up in Rakdos Spells, which he’s skeptical of. I think he likely should have taken it as a sideboard card for his Orzhov deck in case he plays against someone with a lot of removal, but I think it’s extremely unimportant.
After Pack 1 he has more red cards than any other color, but he’s not planning to use them, and he’s thinking of himself as Orzhov.
I think his first pick in Pack 2 is the pick I disagree with most — Champion of the Perished. He mentions that he thinks it’s the strongest card in the pack, and discusses why he doesn’t take Clear Shot as the next-best card, but I think Lunarch Veteran, a card he doesn’t even mention, is just much better in his Orzhov deck. He says he doesn’t need Champion of the Perished to get much bigger because it’s a one-drop, but it’s competing against another one-drop that does more by itself. How much bigger does it need to get how quickly to outperform Lunarch Veteran?
Assuming he stays in Orzhov, the only cards that can grow the Champion are Diregraf Horde; Hobbling Zombie; Morkrut Behemoth; Siege Zombie; Tainted Adversary; Crawl from the Cellar; Ghoulish Procession; Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia; No Way Out; and Rotten Reunion. I think it’s very unlikely that he ends up with enough of those nine total cards that he wants to play that he can expect Champion to even reliably become a 2/2, so I think the Lunarch Veteran is just a safer, stronger pick in his seat. (Incidentally, it also wins over 6% more in Orzhov in Traditional Draft on 17Lands than Champion of the Perished.)
Second pick he takes Fleshtaker, solidifying himself in Orzhov, which I agree with.
Third pick he debates between Siege Zombie and Eaten Alive and takes Eaten Alive. I’m fine with either of those or the Search Party Captain as a pick here — I think they’re all close and defensible. I’d note that with two Eaten Alive, Ecstatic Awakener, and two Fleshtakers, he’s going to struggle a little with fodder because black isn’t as good at making Zombie tokens as blue is, which is where I think he’ll be punished for underrating Lunarch Veteran.
Fourth pick he debates between Siege Zombie and Olivia’s Midnight Ambush, clearly not stressing about his lack of fodder, which might suggest Clarion Cathar, and takes Ambush stating that it’s just the better card. I think I’d take the Siege Zombie because he isn’t low on removal and he’s trying to make his Champion playable, but this is also kind of what I was getting at with the Champion over Veteran pick; even if he sees the Zombies he’d need to support it, he might have to go out of his way a little to actually get them.
Fifth pick he takes Mourning Patrol over Unruly Mob, which I think is clearly correct given that I think he’s looking for creatures he’s willing to sacrifice, and I still think he’s overrating Unruly Mob in his considerations.
Sixth and seventh pick he takes a pair of Novice Occultists, which I usually don’t like very much, but I think they’re exactly what his deck needed.
Eighth pick he takes No Way Out over Unruly Mob, which I think is clearly correct. He says people criticized this pick, but I think the No Way Out is clearly better for his deck, which the stats strongly support.
The rest of the pack is straightforward and I agree with his picks.
Third pack he opens a Vanquish the Horde, which he takes despite noting that it will be a little weaker because of open decklists. Having this, I’d be happy about the Flare of Faith, which offers a potential combo kill with Vanquish the Horde and Fleshtaker.
Second pick he says is interesting because he thinks Olivia’s Midnight Ambush is a better card than Ecstatic Awakener, but that his deck prefers Ecstatic Awakener. For me, this pick is extremely clear, as I think Awakener is a stronger card and agree that his deck pushes even further toward that, so while I disagree with his reasoning, I agree with his pick.
Third pick he takes Shady Traveler over Search Party Captain, noting that it might have been a mistake but that he likes Shady Traveler a lot. I think this pick is clearly wrong, and don’t know why he likes Shady Traveler that much.
Fourth pick he takes the only card he can possibly play in Bladebrand.
Fifth pick is another clear pack where he takes the only card he’d want at all in Hobbling Zombie.
Sixth pick he gets a surprisingly late Foul Play.
Seventh pick he takes Morkrut Behemoth over Blood Pact, which I agree with even if they’re both sideboard cards.
Eighth pick he has a choice between Arrogant Outlaw and Rotten Reunion, which I think is pretty interesting. Both are “weak” cards that are better that they usually are in his deck. Arrogant Poet has better stats in Orzhov on 17Lands, but I think it’s reasonable to take the Reunion, especially for Best-of-Three play where it might be a particularly strong sideboard card, but if he’d taken the Lunarch Veteran over the Champion of the Perished, then I might take the Outlaw. He also makes a good point about using Rotten Reunion as a trick with Fleshtaker.
I clearly disagree with a lot of Paulo’s picks, but I think he did a good job overall of staying flexible, navigating the draft, and ending up in colors that made sense given what he’d seen.
Seth starts his draft with Sigardian Savior. This card has a lower game-in-hand win rate on 17Lands in Traditional Draft than Duelcraft Trainer, Baithook Angler, and Diregraf Horde in his pack, but some portion of that should be attributed to the fact that it’s taken more highly, so people have to give up more to get it and might overly commit to it, but it should also be noted that wins quite a bit less than Duelcraft Trainer and Diregraf Horde.
Since it’s a mythic, it’s unlikely that he or I have really had enough experience with or against the card to be sure that it’s right, but it’s at least reasonable. I think chat and commentary overrated the strength of this card here, but it’s a fine pick.
Second pick Seth highlights Covetous Castaway out of a pack where I thought the best options were Revenge of the Drowned or Eccentric Farmer. Covetous Castaway is a two-drop, which is what Sigardian Savior is looking for, except that it doesn’t quite work the way you want because you don’t really want to get it out of your graveyard. On the other hand, it does mill you when it dies, which is productive, and both cards want you to fill your graveyard, so they have some synergy. Still, I think Revenge of the Drowned is enough stronger that I’d take that if I were to take a blue card.
Ultimately, Seth ends up taking the Eccentric Farmer instead, which I think is totally reasonable, since the milling helps with setting up for the Savior and getting an extra land helps reliably cast the five-mana Angel. I largely think Eccentric Farmer versus Revenge of the Drowned is a question of color or archetype preference at that point.
Third pick he takes an Organ Hoarder, which I think is clearly correct, with the next-best option being a Shadowbeast Sighting, but it’s too early to take the Sighting just to stay on color, and because Eccentric Farmer and Organ Hoarder can both find splash colors of mana and enable graveyard interaction, he could easily play all three of these cards together in a coherent deck.
Fourth pick Seth takes Shipwreck Sifters over the generally stronger Falcon Abomination. Shipwreck Sifters plays very well with Sigardian Savior, and all of his cards gesture toward a graveyard-centric strategy, but I still think I’d prefer the more flexible Falcon Abomination this early in the draft, though I think it’s reasonable to try to target a deck where the Shipwreck Sifters will be better. I think it’s kinda doubling down on hoping to get passed cards he’s already hoping for, but when you’re trying to win a pod against great drafters, that could be a reasonable gamble.
His fifth pack is fairly weak, and he takes Search Party Captain, which I think is really the only card that would make sense.
Sixth pick he takes another Shipwreck Sifters, which I think is a very clear pick despite the fact that there are several reasonable cards in his colors. They’re much better in multiples, and he doesn’t want to pass this and then fight someone else for Shipwreck Sifters and disturb creatures for the rest of the draft.
Eighth pick he deliberates over what I consider a clear Larder Zombie and then takes Timberland Guide, and I’m really not sure what motivates this pivot deeper into green. I think Timberland Guide is a weaker card with fewer synergies in a color he’s less committed to, so I’m really not sure what his plan is here.
Ninth pick he took Defend the Celestus, which was the strongest card in the pack and totally in line with his previous picks.
Tenth pick his pack is just terrible, and for the rest of the pack his picks aren’t very interesting, but he didn’t see any blue or white cards and saw a lot of green, which might solidify his pivot.
Pack 2 he opens a Graveyard Trespasser, which he could actually take and look to abandon white and blue, but instead he takes Contortionist Troupe, a strong card that doesn’t branch into a new color, which I think is probably right.
Second pick he takes Shadowbeast Sighting, which I think is the best pick, as I prefer it to Odric’s Outrider in Selesnya and at this point he has a lot more green than white.
Third pick he takes a very clear Lunarch Veteran.
His fourth pack is extremely weak for him, and he takes Candletrap over Flare of Faith, which I think is pretty close.
Fifth pick is also rough, and he takes Bird Admirer over basically no other options.
Sixth pick he takes a Bounding Wolf, again, with no real alternatives in his colors. The packs he’s seeing are weak. As it happens, the Graveyard Trespasser pivot might have worked out pretty well, but I don’t disagree with his choices.
Seventh pick is also really weak, and he takes Ritual Guardian over Candlelit Cavalry and Sungold Barrage. I agree with taking the cheaper threat, but in Best-of-Three Sungold Barrage as a sideboard card might be better than a creature he hopes not to play. However, given how this pack has gone, he might be worried about getting enough playables. I think I’d still prefer the Barrage though.
Eighth pick offers a Howl of the Hunt, which isn’t particularly good.
Overall, Pack 2 was horrible for him and there wasn’t a lot he could have done about it.
Pack 3 he opens another Graveyard Trespasser, amusingly, and takes Duelcraft Trainer over Eccentric Farmer.
His second pick he gets passed a Hound Tamer, which is a clear pick.
Fifth pick he gets passed a Dawnhart Mentor, and I agree with commentary that this pick is huge for him.
Seventh pick he sees Cathar Commando, Mourning Patrol, and Might of the Old Ways, and takes Cathar Commando, which he really needs as he’s low on two-drops and looking for two-drops that trade to get the most value out of his Sigardian Savior.
Eighth pick he takes another Bird Admirer over Tapping at the Window, Howl of the Hunt, and Crossroads Candleguide, and I think this is pretty close in that he doesn’t really want to play any of them. Bird Admirer is probably a reasonable sideboard card against flyers or some aggro decks.
He tables the Eccentric Farmer he opened and the rest of the draft is pretty uneventful, but I’d have taken the second Snarling Wolf over the Tapping at at the Window.
The defining pick of this draft was probably taking the Timberland Guide over the Larder Zombie, which ended up looking very good in hindsight, as he basically never saw another blue card, but I wonder if that’s partially because of passing the Falcon Abomination, which is a stronger signal to put someone into blue than the first Shipwreck Sifter he took. If he’d taken rather than passing the Revenge of the Drowned and Falcon Abomination, the draft likely plays out very differently. As it went, he ended up with a pretty horrible Pack 2 that I don’t think he really could have anticipated, but a very good Pack 3 due to correctly identifying that green was the most open color for his seat.