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!

6 thoughts on “Magic TTP Draft: Red/Blue”

  1. I was originally going Green/White (based around Sacred Mesa and the two Ivory Giants), but I made a slight tactical error in thinking that I would either be able to splash Red or Black for removal (turned out there really wasn’t much in the room, and what there was got sucked up) or that the White/Green removal would get passed back to me (Andrew picked up both the cards I had my eye on). I thus ended up with a White/Green deck that won when Sacred Mesa stuck to the board, and lost when it didn’t.

    The one I played against you was rebuilt to use the Red removal I did have plus the two Blue bounce spells, so it was four colours, which meant I had to go mana-heavy to be ensured of playing what I drew.

    I should probably have stuck to Green/White and picked up removal as soon as I saw it, but oh well.

    BTW, I ‘m surprised that you managed to Disintegrate the Totem – I guess Daniel powered it up as a blocker, and you got to vaporize it afterwards (Disintegrate’s a sorcery).

  2. Yep, that’s exactly how I disintegrated the Totem. I even forgot that attacking isn’t part of the Main Phase anymore and tried to do it during combat, though since he’d already declared his blockers that procedural error didn’t make any difference.

  3. Michael, the #1 rule of draft is: draft the best card. I’ve found that it’s impossible to say “I’m going to play X color” before the draft begins. What happens if you open a bomb in a color you hadn’t considered? You can’t pass it. You have to draft it. On the other hand, commons do play a huge role in the color you end up playing. So, too, do the colors your opponents are drafting. I’ve never been successful at speccing a color before a draft begins…

    Reality Acid looks great: blue removal! (It *is* an enchantment, of course, but still: blue removal!) OMG, the Tactitican is awesome. WOW.

    How much do you look at your mana curve when constructing your deck? I worry that you’re playing a land short…

  4. J.D.: “The best card” is sometimes a little hard to suss out. It’s hard to find anything bad to say about Jaya Ballard or Empty The Warrens. Ib Halfheart, though? Well, he relies more on being able to draft a certain suite of cards to support him, even though he is a very nifty card. On the other hand, although Akroma, Angel of Fury is an excellent, powerful card, she’s extremely expensive (even as a morph). She can be a good finisher, but I’m not sure she’s a sure-thing first pick. (That said, the one time I drafted her she ended up saving my hash in two different games.)

    It’s fairly easy to plan on going into Red in Time Spiral, because it’s really an excellent color in that expansion. This article has a brief rundown of the ten two-color combinations, contrasting how they played in Limited in TTT vs. TTP drafts. My feeling is that drafting Green or Black means you have to be more clever in your execution (or lucky in what cards come to you), whereas Red, Blue and White all have pretty strong cores of creatures and supporting spells. That said, both Green and Black each have a few excellent spells. So maybe it’s just that I haven’t figured out how to effectively draft with them yet.

    I think the biggest factor in a successful limited draft is not being in the same colors as the guy on your right. I was a little lucky in my draft with Blue because the guy on my right tends to draft Blue creatures, leaving the Blue supporting spells for me. Fortunately, drafting 45 cards to assemble a 40-card-including-lands deck means you can have a mediocre draft with the first pack and still tune your strategy to have a successful draft overall.

    Reality Acid is a useful card in the right circumstances. I think it just worked poorly in my deck. It has good synergy with cards like Riftwing Cloudskate, Tolarian Sentinel or Dreamstalker, and also (albeit less so) with things which remove time counters. My deck wasn’t tuned for that, though (mainly due to lack of opportunity; I think Subrata took the only Dreamstalker, and there were no Cloudskates or Sentinels that I saw).

    But as you can see, Blue has a lot of “semi-removal”, in the sense of returning cards to their owners’ hands, or (better yet) putting it on top of their library (“Hey, I know what your next card is going to be!”).

    I’ve been looking at mana curve more and more during my recent drafts. One great thing about Suspend is that it makes several powerful creatures very cheap, which is great for Limited. (I suspect it doesn’t play so well in Constructed.) I was actually quite happy with my mana curve in my deck. The two times I really got mana-screwed it wasn’t due to color mix, but due to sheer number of lands. And honestly when you’ve only drawn 2 lands in your first 13 cards (and there are 17 in your 40 card deck), that’s just bad luck, not bad planning. (And one of the two games where I was mana-screwed I ended up winning.)

  5. Good points, Michael.

    Plus there’s the fact that I haven’t drafted in nearly two years, and don’t know the current block at all. I did have moderate success in local tournaments and in Magic: Online when I was playing, though. (DON’T play online. It’s an evil, expensive drug. Fortunately there’s no Mac version of the client…)

  6. I’m only mildly interested in Magic Online, but I can probably more than satisfy my Magic cravings by playing with friends.

    I hadn’t played Magic since the days of Weatherlight and Tempest, but I have heard that the Time Spiral block is generally getting really good reviews. I’ll be interested to see how it works once Future Sight is out (in May). I’ve never played any local tournaments, I’ve only ever played with friends. Though a couple of friends are trying to persuade me to play at a local store’s booster drafts on the occasional Friday. I might take them up on it.

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