May 13, 2015

Changing Lanes in Atlantic City

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Last weekend was Grand Prix Atlantic City. It was a great event with over 1600 players competing for the trophy. Day One was Sealed Deck, but today we're going to focus in on Booster Draft—the Day Two format.

If you haven't seen a GP before, Day Two breaks down into two drafts, followed by a Top 8 draft. The players shamble in early in the morning and the first draft fires by about 9:30 AM. After the draft itself, the deck build, and the three matches that follow...the players draft again. They then build decks and battle for three more rounds, which brings them to one of the major moments of the weekend: the cut to the Top 8.

After the Top 8 are determined, the players sign some forms, fill out a survey, have their pictures taken, and then start mentally preparing for the final draft of the day. As you might imagine, the intensity is pretty ratcheted-up when the players sit down to open their packs.


Expectations

Whenever I do a Crack-a-Pack on my Limited Resources podcast, I like to set the stage by pretending that we are in Day Two of a Grand Prix with a shot at the Top 8. I'm open to drafting crazy, sweet decks when I'm playing with the coverage team or on Magic Online, but when a Grand Prix trophy is on the line, it's business time.

Hopefully, you've had your chance to try out most of the rares in the format and some of the build-around-me uncommons as well. If you haven't, this isn't the time to start experimenting. You'll want a consistent, powerful deck that has the answers to the questions your deck is weakest against. You'll want a good mana curve and you'll want to avoid any overly ambitious splashes as well.

You hope to open great cards, and get passed similarly great cards in the same colors, but you won't count on it. This week on the column we have set the stage to look closely at a real Grand Prix Top 8 draft.

We'll be looking at Luis Scott-Vargas's draft today.


Don't Call It a Comeback

To help set the stage, LSV has had an up-and-down season. He won a team Limited Grand Prix with his teammates Paul Cheon and Eric Froehlich. He also had a disappointing Pro Tour performance in Brussels. The rest of the season has been similarly swingy, and I think many felt like Luis was overdue for a strong finish.

After going 7-2 in the Sealed Deck portion of Grand Prix Atlantic City, Luis ripped six wins in a row in the two Booster Drafts to secure his spot in the Top 8. I'm sure Luis felt a mixture of relief and excitement as he looked forward to the draft.

Speaking of the draft, let's dive right in. You can read below and follow along on the draft viewer as well.


This is the first pack that LSV had to choose from:

Luis opened a Thunderbreak Regent, one of the better cards in the set! This pack as a few other cards in it, but Thunderbreak Regent is far and away the most powerful option, and Luis windmill slams it. (Slang for the motion you make when you pick a sweet bomb in Limited).

Of note, probably the next-best card in the pack is a Sprinting Warbrute. This doesn't affect the choice, but it's worth keeping in mind as the player on his left (who by the way, is Gaudenis Vidugiris) may pick it. If he does, it could mean that we would get fewer red cards in pack two.


Next pick:

Now Luis gets passed another good red rare in Ire Shaman. Ire Shaman isn't on the same level as Thunderbreak Regent, but it's a darn good card and a nice pickup here. Again we'll note that Luis is passing another Sprinting Warbrute.

At this early stage, things are looking quite promising for LSV. He'll have noticed that there was an uncommon missing from that pack, and maybe even quickly go over some of the uncommons that could be taken over Ire Shaman. Rakshasa Gravecaller? Ultimate Price? Roast?

More information to store away for later.


Pick three:

Things keep progressing smoothly for Luis as he considers which is the better of the two viable red options: Sabertooth Outrider or Twin Bolt. For a deck that has zero copies of either card, the first Twin Bolt is far superior to the first Sabertooth Outrider. Twin Bolt is solid, instant-speed removal, while the Sabertooth is relatively replaceable.

Luis takes the Twin Bolt and things seem to be off to a great start.

Let's go a few picks further to see how this story unfolds.


Pick four:

Not much here in red for Luis (Kolaghan Stormsinger isn't very good), so it's probably time to start looking at secondary colors. The two strongest options are the Kolaghan Skirmisher and the Colossodon Yearling. Red-green is pretty good, but red-black is either the best or second-best color pair in this format. Luis uses this as the tiebreaker and takes the Kolaghan Skirmisher.

An unexciting pick, but it's something.


At this point, Luis is still looking for solid red playables to go with his Thunderbreak Regent, Ire Shaman, and Twin Bolt. These are picks that are worth "protecting." Protecting your picks means favoring red cards over even more powerful options in other colors so that you can facilitate playing your most powerful cards.

But there isn't much here, is there? Vandalize is unplayable and Volcanic Rush ranges from terrible to barely playable.

Having just taken a black card, Luis will then survey the pack for reasonable choices in that color.

Nope, nothing.

Ok. Well that means it's time to start looking for yet another color. Green seems somewhat open here, as the best two cards in the pack are green: Circle of Elders and Conifer Strider. I'm more partial to [autocard]Circle of Elders, but Luis prefers Conifer Strider. This makes sense, as he's already in red, and cards like Temur Battle Rage from the Fate Reforged pack work very well with Conifer Strider.


Again, no playable red cards. This is getting a bit concerning for Luis, as it's pretty likely someone on his left is in red after he passed the two Sprinting Warbrutes earlier in the draft. This could be a sign that there are players in red on both his left and right side. There isn't much he can do here, though, other than take a Shambling Goblin and hope things turn around quickly.


Luis picks up a green card here in Sandsteppe Scavenger. Green feels like it's the most open color at this point, but we must note that the green cards we have seen aren't particularly good. They aren't the kind of card that makes you want to switch over to green.

Luis also has to consider that green is the weakest color in Fate Reforged, putting extra pressure on his picks for the rest of this pack, and the next as well.


Nothing much here, and things are starting to get awkward. Luis takes another green card in Ainok Artillerist and moves on.

Over the last picks, Luis sees zero playable red cards but continues his push into green by taking another Conifer Strider and a Colossodon Yearling.

Things haven't gone well since the first few picks. Luis finds himself with some really nice top-end red cards, but a mix of black and green cards fill out the rest. He'll be looking to solidify his colors in pack two. He won't be expecting to get too much red in this pack after passing the two Warbrutes, but he'll take what he can get.


This pack is pretty straightforward. Luis takes his second Twin Bolt and feels pretty good about snagging a good red card here.


Whoa! Luis gets passed a Sidisi, Undead Vizier! Sidisi is a very powerful card, but it puts him in a weird position if he takes it. This pack has a decent red card in Sabertooth Outrider, and a very good green card in Epic Confrontation. Right now, Luis has mostly red and green cards in his pile, along with a few random black cards.

This is a critical juncture in his draft. If he takes Sidisi here, he is committing to black, which has him ditching all of his green picks. Sidisi is clearly the most powerful card in the pack, but is it worth getting rid of some quality picks in the most open color?

The answer is hard to say. Ultimately, Luis decides that the answer is yes and takes Sidisi. I think there are arguments on either side, but I don't fault him for taking the super-powerful rare here.

Luis has now set course for black-red, and is in many ways fully at the mercy of the packs.

Luis picks up a Hand of Silumgar, Vulturous Aven, Marsh Hulk, Dutiful Attendant, all in a row for the next four picks. So far, his push into black is paying off.

Screamreach Brawler is the next pick, and it's the last playable Luis will see for the rest of this entire pack.

That's right, for the rest of the pack, all he’s able to pick up are copies of Ancestral Statue, Kolaghan Monument, Qarsi Sadist, Custodian of the Trove, Spidersilk Net, Explosive Vegetation, and Duress.

Yuck. Nothing much here outside of a few fringe playables and a sideboard card. Not how LSV wanted to end his second pack.


But, there is still the last pack. Luis is probably short on playables going into the last pack, and this one is going to have to come through in a big way if his deck is going to be great.

Luis continues his trend of early-game bombs by opening one of the best cards in the set: Crux of Fate. This is an exciting card for Luis and goes perfectly with the Sidisi that put him in black in the first place. This deck just improved by a big leap.


The only two real considerations for this pack are Feral Invocation and Arcbond. I like taking the Arcbond here as it has the ability to steal wins as well as being a powerful—if conditional—spell. Luis opts for the more solid pick in the Fierce Invocation. This makes sense, as he is already in fear of being short on playables and he knows that Feral Invocation will make the main deck.


Boom! Luis gets another great pickup here in Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury! This is one of the best possible cards for his deck, and even though he has to pass a Goblin Heelcutter, he's fine doing so.

Luis picks a Hooded Assassin and Rageform next, but that's where things go even further downhill. He doesn't pick up a single playable card for the rest of this entire pack! Check out his picks, in order:


Navigating

As you can see, Luis had a very difficult seat at this draft. He did get some amazing rares: Thunderbreak Regent; Crux of Fate; Sidisi, Undead Vizier; and Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury. He also ran out of playables and had to run Custodian of the Trove, Defiant Ogre, and even Dirgur Nemesis (yes, that Dirgur Nemesis) in the main deck.

Deciding when to change colors can be tricky. Luis had the option to stay with green in pack two, but decided to go big and pick the Sidisi, Undead Vizier. It paid off as he picked a bunch of black cards right after and even got the two great rares in the Fate Reforged pack.

I thought the decision was a close call at the time and still do now. I can see arguments for either side. Luis did a good job of navigating what would be a rough seat no matter what colors he ended up playing. Weighing these factors on the fly is the result of many years of drafting, and even then the answers aren't always clear. It's one of the many things that makes Booster Draft the best thing ever.

You can watch the draft viewer, the video of Brian David-Marshall and me covering the draft, and see the final decklist as well.

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR



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