The Other Drafting

Monday night was Magic night at the day job: we had a booster draft after work using a box of Dragons of Tarkir.

Booster drafting is a social format for Magic, where each player starts with three booster packs. The players break up into groups of 5-8 sitting around a table and then everyone opens a pack, selecting the card you like best and then passing the pack to the left until that first pack is exhausted. The second and third packs are opened in the same way, but the passing direction alternates so that the second pack is passed to the right. Once all the cards are picked, you can build a deck and then play.

It’s a fascinating format, featuring difficult decisions in the choice of cards, opportunities for signalling, and then even harder choices when trying to make a deck from your ill-chosen assortment of cards. Dragons is a good set to draft with – anything with dragons in it is intrinsically interesting, and there are some strong synergies between cards (some faint echoes of which emerged in my deck).

I enjoy drafting but I am certainly no expert – this was only my second booster draft. I did better than last time though I was not disciplined enough in my choice of cards: I picked some cards because they were cool*, and some because they would fit into a standard deck I’m building, and others because I just didn’t want to face them. What I completely failed at was keeping in mind what I already had in my pack – I had only the very vaguest notion of a plan, and that evaporated in the avalanche of choices I had to make.

When it came to deck-building, I didn’t have enough cards that went together. My early picks had pointed towards a blue/black control strategy, but with my random picking of white, green and especially red cards I ended up with a three colour aggro deck. Khans of Tarkir was all about three colour decks, but Dragons is a set which doesn’t support three colours at all. I think the best that could be said is that it had a short mana curve: most of the creatures and spells cost two or three mana to cast, which meant at least I usually had something to do.

Despite those reservations, I won a couple of games: my first two match-ups both went my way quite quickly, and I was feeling confident about how the deck worked, but the problem with a three-colour collection of disjointed singles is that it’s inconsistent: the other games were less successful, and I got flattened a couple of times.

Here’s the deck list for what I played –

  • creatures:
    • 1 x Atarka Efreet – strong but fragile. Most useful for the damage-causing ability when it turns face up.
    • 1 x Blood-Chin Rager – he’s a warrior, and he makes all warriors harder to stop.
    • 2 x Elusive Spellfist – not a powerful creature, but unblockable if you play a non-creature spell.
    • 2 x Hand of Silumgar – small, but has deathtouch which is always useful. Also, a warrior.
    • 1 x Kolaghan Skirmisher – undistinguished**, but has dash and is a warrior.
    • 1 x Necromaster Dragon – big, flying, makes zombies. A bomb if it can stay in play for a couple of turns.
    • 1 x Qarsi Sadist – solid blocker, and can be used to drain your opponent.
    • 2 x Screamreach Brawler – dashes in cheaply.
    • 1 x Sidisi’s Faithful – good blocker with a bonus exploit ability. I like mostly because it’s cheap to cast.
    • 1 x Ukud Cobra – big blocker with deathtouch.
  • non-creatures:
    • 1 x Impact Tremors – causes damage whenever a creature drops onto the battlefield. A tent-pole card: when this came out early, it made it hard for my opponent to stabilise.
    • 1 x Dragon Fodder – makes two goblins. See Impact Tremors above.
    • 1 x Silumgar’s Command – multi-mode utility spell, useful for clearing away troublesome creatures; it can also counter a spell, but too expensive to do that consistently.
    • 3 x Foul-Tongue Shriek – causes X damage where X is the number of attacking creatures.
    • 1 x Glint – surprisingly useful card to save a creature you like. Saw one of these in foil and it’s practically psychedelic.
    • 1 x Silumgar’s Scorn – counter spells are useful, but this is too conditional.
    • 1 x Twin Bolt – two points of damage isn’t much, but it’s enough to remove a morph creature.
    • 1 x Encase in Ice – disables a creature permanently, but this was a useless card in all my games because it only works on red and green.
  • land:
    • 6 x Swamp
    • 6 x Island
    • 5 x Mountain – only five red cards, but I bumped up the proportion of mountains to increase the chances my red splash would fire.

The way this deck was supposed to work was to cast Impact Tremors early, then play out lots of creatures (chipping away one point of life for each). Once the army is assembled, attack en masse and cast foul-Tongue Shriek to do more damage. This happened, more or less, twice.

It failed to go off the other times, though – I didn’t get Impact Tremors early enough for whatever reason, or the army of creatures didn’t materialise, or my big creature would be killed early. However, this theme of lots of creatures ganging up is one I like a lot. The deck I am making for Standard has a lot of these kinds of interactions.

And that’s Magic.

[*] why yes they were dragon cards. How did you guess?

[**] just a 2/2, commonly called a bear whether the creature depicted is actually a bear or not.

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