Magic TTP Draft: Red/Blue

My friends have been playing Magic from time to time lately, but I’ve been too busy to join in, due to my extremely busy March. But last night we got five people together for a Time Spiral/Planar Chaos booster draft (TTP), and I made the time to join in.

Last time I played I had wanted to end up playing Red/Blue, but blew it completely and ended up drafting a mediocre Black/White deck. Tonight I resolved to stick to my plan. Well, sticking to two colors from the outset isn’t so much a plan as a desire, but I definitely wanted to give it a try.

Fortunately, my first pack made it easy for me to jump into Red, as it contained Jaya Ballard, Task Mage. I’ve drafted Jaya before, and she’s a terrific card: She’s relatively inexpensive, is absolutely brutal against Blue decks, is a good general-purpose card against other decks, can wipe the board clean later in the game if things have gone against you, and she’s a 2/2, which makes her harder to kill and a semi-useful creature all by herself.

Another early pick was Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician, which made me think I might be able to assemble a decent goblin deck, maybe picking up one or two Empty the Warrens. Alas, I never saw a single ETW, and although many Time Spiral goblins are decent low-level creatures, it’s hard to assemble a deck around them. So I ended up never using Ib, or some of the goblins I drafted.

At the end of the first round of drafting, I was feeling pretty bummed about my deck. I had some Red and Blue cards, but my last five picks were from packs which no longer contained any such colors. I ended up drafting some White cards due to lack of choice, and getting Momentary Blink and Gustcloak Cavalier made me think I may need to go Red/White, or even three colors, but I wasn’t very enthused about it.

As it turned out, the second round ended up providing me with the backbone of my draft: A pair of Keldon Halberdiers. These are very nifty creatures who can do a lot of damage, and since they have first strike (i.e., they deal their damage before their opponents do), they’re very hard to kill through mere combat. They’re also suspendable, which means they can come out quite early in the game without worrying about ramping up your mana supply. I also ended up with a variety of creature-removal spells (Lightning Axe, Grapeshot, Disintegrate), which (as Subrata pointed out) by taking them out of the draft pool helped ensure that my Halberdiers would survive. (Had I thought about that further ahead I would have taken some Black creature removal too, just to get it out of the hands of my opponents.) Fortunately no one ended up with Sulfurous Blast, which would have been devastating to my deck.

The final round of draft was from Planar Chaos, and it netted me some very useful supporting creatures: A pair of Prodigal Pyromancers (i.e., Red Tims), a Brute Force (a Red Giant Growth, one of my favorite cards, due to its efficiency), and a Body Double (which could potentially be a third Halberdier, among other interesting things).

I also ended up with Timecrafting, and Keldon Marauders (to go with my earlier-drafted Clockspinning) which gave me some nifty tricks to play with the Suspend and Vanishing mechanics. I think WotC did a good job designing these mechanics, and they yield some powerful combinations in Limited drafts.

I also ended up with a pair of Reality Acids. I’m torn about this card: Anything you really need to spend it on is going to do you a lot of damage in the three turns it takes to play out, unless you speed it up with Timecrafting or Clockspinning, or you have a card to bounce it back to your hand (of which I had none), and it’s kind of expensive to cast on its own. I think it’s just not very useful without some cards to speed it up, although it is a useful card to discard to power Jaya Ballard.

So I ended up with a deck that was 2/3 Red and 1/3 Blue, which isn’t bad. One advantage of a lopsided deck like this is that when you have cards which take two Red to cast, you’re more likely to end up with that two red when you need it. I assembled a 40-card deck with 10 Mountains and 7 Islands and started playing.

My first game was against Adam, who was playing a Black-with-some-Blue deck, designed around the Madness mechanic with some cards to search for other cards. He was surprised that it worked so well, but he had more than enough creature removal to take care of my Halberdiers, which left me stuck in neutral, and eventually he accumulated enough creatures to run me down. He did have to burn through quite a few cards to do so, though.

I then moved on to playing Daniel, who was playing a Blue-with-some-Black deck. Daniel has a tendency to draft control decks which I think of as puzzles: They’re challenging to figure out both for himself and for his opponent. Since my deck contained a lot of creature removal, this meant we played a couple of long games. The first game I ended up mana-screwed (only two land), but Daniel inadvertantly helped me out by playing Braids, Conjurer Adept. This allowed me to play Jaya Ballard on my next upkeep. No one else had known I had her, which resulted in a round of “ooooh, aaahhh” from the room. That’s always good to hear! I managed to plunk down a Halberdier as well as some of my supporting creatures, and Jaya and Lightning Axe picked off some of his big creatures. I Grapeshotted one of his morphed creatures, which turned out to be a Slipstream Serpent, which probably saved my bacon. At that point it was only a matter of time.

The second game was similar to this, although I got a Halberdier suspended on the first turn, and spent several turns Clockspinning the Keldon Marauders to keep them around smacking him for 3 – a terrific cheap combo early in the game. The game went on for a while when he killed some of my creatures, but I built up too big a lead to overcome, especially when I brought Jaya out again and between her and the Pyromancers was able to finish him off. (Disintegrate, by the way, is a very useful card to kill the Weatherseed Totem, since it removes the Totem from the game when it’s a creature, this preventing it from returning to its owner’s hand. This probably ensured my victory in the second game, since a 5/3 trampling creature might have let Daniel come back against me.)

Next I played Subrata. I’m still not sure exactly what his draft strategy was, but he ended up playing me against his reworked deck, which was either 4- or 5-color, and contained Slivers and at least one Ivory Giant. I played Subrata in two games, and basically Halberdier’ed him to death. The first game we both got out quite a few creatures, and I happened to get both of my Halberdiers out by the time my Veiling Oddity came in from being Suspended to render my creatures unblockable for a turn, which allowed me to hit him for 12 points. He retaliated, but I had two untapped creatures (a Pyromancer and a Crookclaw Transmuter that I’d flashed in during my attack to do one more point of damage to him), so he only did 6 points to me, and then I could swing again and it was over. I think the second game was similar, and Subrata was mana-screwed as well, which made it shorter.

By this time it was 10:30 and I was getting ready to leave, but my final opponent, Andrew, convinced me to play one more game. Unfortunately it wasn’t much of a game, as we both mulliganed out hands, and then both got mana-screwed. I ended up with five 3-cost cards in my hand and only 2 lands when he got his third land and just ran me over. That’s the way it goes sometimes. But by then I really did need to leave, so no rematch.

Overall I was both surprised and happy with how well my deck worked. I probably could have drafted even a little bit better, but I’m still trying to get into the mindset of thinking ahead and thinking more broadly when doing the draft. But really it’s hard to go wrong with powerful creatures and lots of creature removal, as well as two or three cards which can finish off the game (and Jaya is powerful enough that she’s useful both early and late).

Now I have to knuckle down to prep for my fantasy baseball draft (on April 1, heh-heh), but next month I should be ready to try to build on my success last night!