gpsj12

Grand Prix San Jose
Day 2 Coverage

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  • Sunday, 10:16 a.m. – Ten Teams
    by Rich Hagon

  • Technically, it's 'Thirty Teams', since that's the number that have come back to test themselves in the team draft format. However, wading through all that Magic excellence isn't possible, so we'll content ourselves with short but sweet biographies of ten of the teams who might make a splash here on day two.

    Justin Schneider, Brian Schneider, Lan D. Ho

    Overnight: 28th, 9-2

    Two brothers, much in evidence during the late 90's. Justin was the more successful of the two, with a couple of GP top 8s, and a pair of Pro Tour top 32s, one more than brother Brian. Lan D. Ho has second at GP Columbus 2001 as his career highlight to date.

    Raphael Levy, Lucas Florent, Louis Deltour

    Overnight: 11th, 9-2

    Any team-mates would inevitably be dwarfed by the accomplishments of Raphael Levy. 18 Grand Prix top 8s, 4 titles, 3 Pro Tour top 8s, the all time Pro Points leader. Still, his team-mates are both decent players. Lucas Florent has been around the Pro scene for a few years now, while Louis Deltour came to prominence when he made the final of GP London last year.

    Ricky Sidher, Michael Hetrick, Shahar Shenhar

    Overnight: 9th, 9-2

    An exciting team with a lot of good things in their Magic futures. At GP San Diego last year, Sidher finished third, having taken time off from his busy Magic Online commitments as 'sipitholla'. At GP Salt Lake City earlier this year, Michael Hetrick made the top 8, taking time off from his busy Magic Online commitments as 'shipitholla'. Who won those two events? Shahar Shenhar, and he's still only 18. As I say, lots of good things coming their way. Maybe today...

    Andreas Ganz, Andreas Nordahl, Sveinung Bjornerud

    Overnight: 18th, 9-2

    Andreas Ganz has travelled the world extensively over the last couple of years, consistently racking up the money finishes without really troubling the very top tables at the back end of the event. Nonetheless, he's a three times Worlds team competitor for Switzerland, a country with a proud record in teams. He's joined by two Norwegians, both of whom have also represented their country at Worlds, with Nordahl playing no fewer than four times. Bjornerud has their lone GP top 8, from Paris last year.

    Andrejs Prost, Matthias Hunt, Kyle Stoll

    Overnight: 22nd, 9-2

    Hailing from Alaska, Prost made the top 8 of Pro Tour Philadelphia last year, and also has a top 8 from GP Seattle-Tacoma earlier this year. Matthias Hunt spent 2011 in ultra-consistent form, with three top 32s on the Pro Tour, contributing to his impressive points total that saw him crowned Rookie of the Year. Pro Kyle Stoll, meanwhile, opened his top 8 account at GP Nashville in 2010.

    Thomas Holzinger, Daniel Grafensteiner, Jonas Kostler

    Overnight: 6th, 9-2

    This European alliance paid off yesterday, as Austrian Holzinger joined his two German friends for fun and profit, mostly profit. Holzinger came to global attention with his top 8 berth at PT Avacyn Restored in Barcelona. He showed it was no fluke by also making the final table at GP Boston. Grafensteiner also has a PT top 8s, coming in 2010 in San Diego, best remembered for the 16-0 run by Luis Scott-Vargas, but also for the win by Simon Goertzen. As for Kostler, he's had a GP top 8 for each of the last three years, and it may not be long before he adds a PT top 8 to his impressive list.

    Ivan Floch, Lukas Jaklovsky, Stanislav Cifka

    Overnight: 23rd, 9-2

    Another European alliance, and this time it's the Slovak Republic (Floch) joining near neighbors Jaklovsky and Cifka from the Czech Republic. In team terms, Floch is something of a machine, having played for the Slovak team at Worlds on no fewer than five occasions, including a trophy-lifting effort in 2010. Jaklovsky has a Worlds top 8 to his name, also from 2010, and narrowly missed out earlier this year at Pro Tour Dark Ascension in Honolulu, where he finished ninth. As for Cifka, he played for the Czech Republic at Worlds last year, and there are high hopes that he'll be a solid successor to Platinum Pro Martin Juza.

    Matt Sperling, David Williams, Paul Rietzl

    Overnight: 15th, 9-2

    There's no doubt that Sperling's living the dream this weekend. He has a GP top 8 from Minneapolis in 2009, but his team-mates have truly excellent resumes, drawn from being near the top of the global game over multiple years. Williams can point to no fewer than eight GP top 8s, and crucially those include two team titles. Rietzl, meanwhile, has constantly been surrounded by great players, and his three GP top 8s are supplemented by a top 8 at Pro Tour Honolulu 2009, and then his storming to victory at PT Amsterdam a year later.

    Tim Aten, Charles Gindy, Aj Sacher

    Overnight: 26th, 8-2-1

    For someone who has a reputation for never actually playing the game, Tim Aten has a string of excellent results. Four GP top 8s include a title in Chicago 2004. That same year, Charles Gindy was part of a team GP victory in Washington DC, but he's best known for his Pro Tour triumph at Hollywood 2008. The team is rounded out by Aj Sacher, who has a pair of GP top 8s, most recently in the truly astonishing lineup from GP Costa Rica 2012.

    Conley Woods, Eric Froehlich, Owen Turtenwald

    Overnight: 4th, 10-1

    In a field that's tightly packed, getting to 10-1 is a big deal, especially as so many of the pairs of rounds today are likely to end with honors even. Woods has four GP top 8s, including a title at GP Orlando to start 2012. His first PT top 8 came in Honolulu 2009, and he looked destined to win Worlds 2011 before Jun'ya Iyanaga took center stage. Froehlich also has two PT top 8s, separated by eight years (San Diego 2002, Worlds in Chiba 2010). He also has five GP top 8s. That leaves the 2011 Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald, who is the living embodiment of consistency. Eleven GP top 8s, with seven of them coming in that one incredible calendar year. He still has things to prove, though - like lifting a trophy at the end of the weekend. This feels like it could be that day.




     

  • Feature Match Round 13 – Jamie Naylor vs. Owen Turtenwald, Lucas Siow vs. Eric Froehlich, Maksym Gryn vs. Conley Woods
    by Rich Hagon

  • Siow, playing Golgari, opened on Dead Reveler into Sluiceway Scorpion against an Azorius deck for Froehlich, who had Tower Drake. Jamie Naylor was clearly Selesnya, starting with Drudge Beetle and Keening Apparition against Izzet for Turtenwald with a turn three Stealer of Secrets. After a mulligan, Woods seemed to be Grixis of sorts, while Gryn was clearly Rakdos, via a punishing Rakdos Shred-Freak into Splatter Thug Unleashed start. With Woods already handicapped by mulligans, that start quickly got out of hand via Civic Saber, and Woods was one down.

    Jamie Naylor, Lucas Siow, and Maksym Gryn (left to right) ended Day One with a perfect 11-0 record.

    Gryn 1 - 0 Woods.

    Back at Turtenwald v Naylor, the Selesnya player still held the upper hand, with Precinct Captain now joining the Drudge Beetle and Keening Apparition. Turtenwald still had his Stealer of Secrets, now with Goblin Electromancer for company. Naylor, 21-10 up on life, swung with his team, dropping Turtenwald to four. Owen had a plan, however, with Mizzium Mortars cast with Overload, wiping the board completely and utterly changing the dynamic of the match.

    Next door, Froehlich looked behind on the board, but Archon of the Triumvirate was certainly a big factor in his favor. Woods was into game two against Gryn, trying to do something more meaningful than mulligan and sweep up his permanents.

    Lucas Siow (left) doing his best to hang on against Eric Forehlich (right).

    Having reset the board, Turtenwald began the task of establishing dominance. Thoughtflare certainly helped, digging him four cards deeper, and Izzet Charm continued the card draw theme. He was, however, down to two life. Sunspire Griffin deals two damage...

    Turtenwald 0 - 1 Naylor.

    There was some good news for the Channel Fireball team, when Archon of the Triumvirate secured game one for Eric Froehlich.

    Froehlich 1 - 0 Siow.

    In what was now clearly a Rakdos mirror, Woods was in trouble once again. Although he had a Zanikev Locust in play, plus a 5/3 Spawn of Rix Maadi, Gryn had double Sewer Shambler, and Swampwalk is pretty good against Rakdos...

    Froehlich was quickly out of the blocks in game two with Lyev Skyknight and Hussar Patrol, and although Siow laid Towering Indrik, Froehlich was able to keep the pressure on with Knightly Valor netting him a 2/2 Knight and a boost to his Lyev Skyknight. That was increasingly important, as Gryn had used his Swampwalkers to complete the match against Woods.

    Gryn 2 - 0 Woods

    On the back foot, Siow had to cast Spawn of Rix Maadi without a counter, and the defensive theme continued with Trestle Troll. Over in the Turtenwald match, Naylor was struggling for white mana. Turtenwald hit a couple of times with Crosstown Courier, upping the clock with Pursuit of Flight. Naylor still had a turn four play despite no white mana, casting the 3/3 trample Korozda Monitor. Turtenwald activated his Pursuit of Flight, and Naylor was down to 10.

    Froehlich was continuing to press, but now Siow had the mighty Vraska the Unseen. With Korozda Guildmage joining the battlefield, Siow was grinding his way back into game two.

    Conley Woods, Eric Froehlich, and Owen Turtenwald (left to right).

    Still without white, Naylor continued to stay in touch, Towering Indrik crucially having reach. When he finally found a Plains, he had plenty of choices. What he didn't have plenty of, however, was time, since Turtenwald had him down to 4. That became 7 via Centaur Healer, but with Annihilating Fire going to the dome they were headed for a deciding game three.

    Naylor 1 - 1 Turtenwald

    Froehlich was trying everything to keep Vraska in check. Every mission was inevitably a suicide mission - that's what Vraska does - but the American kept on worrying away at her loyalty, before dropping Archon of the Triumvirate once more.

    Naylor and Turtenwald were now into game three, and Naylor had the better opening, with Drudge Beetle a 4/4 thanks to Common Bond, and a 3/3 Korozda Monitor, opposite just a Runewing for Turtenwald on turn four. When that was joined by Crosstown Courier, it was clear that the early game properly belonged to Naylor. He drew a fifth land, and would surely be hoping for one more soon, as he had two copies of Coursers' Accord in hand. When Turtenwald double blocked the Drudge Beetle, Naylor used Selesnya Charm to grant +2+2 and Trample. Turtenwald was down to three life.

    Next door, Froehlich completed the victory over Siow, Archon of the Triumvirate getting the job done.

    Froehlich 2 - 0 Siow.

    That squared the match at 1-1, but only for a few fleeting seconds. With five mana to work with, but no creatures on the battlefield, there was no way to halt the Selesnya damage.

    Naylor 2 - 1 Turtenwald.

    Match to Naylor, Siow, and Gryn.




     

  • Sunday, 12:42 p.m. – Sticking to a Guild
    by Steve Sadin

  • When Return to Ravnica was announced, I immediately began dreaming about drafting five color decks that were filled to the brim with extremely powerful cards. When the set was fully previewed at the Return to Ravnica Card Image Gallery a few days before the Prerelease, I started thinking that those dreams were about to come true.

    And sure enough, I managed to build and play a "greedy" five color deck that included just about every good card in my Sealed Pool. I mean, I wasn't going to leave any dragons or removal spells in my sideboard if I didn't have to.

    There is a lot of good mana fixing in Return to Ravnica, and there are a ton of powerful cards that you would want to cast – but, in practice, the five color decks seem to struggle in Return to Ravnica Booster Drafts.

    In order to learn more about what is preventing five color decks from dominating (or even regularly holding their own) in Return to Ravnica Booster Drafts – I sought out the advice of two of the best limited players in the world. Martin Juza, and Matt Costa.


    Martin Juza

    When asked why he thought that five color decks haven't been performing very well (or even appearing) in most Return to Ravnica drafts – Martin Juza immediately pointed out one card.

    "The five color decks are bad because Transguild Promenade is awful in draft -- there's just no good time to play it."

    While it can be okay to take some time off to fix your mana in the relatively slow Return to Ravnica Sealed Deck format – Juza just couldn't imagine a situation where he would want to build a deck that relied on a card that forced him to give up an entire turn just so he would be able to start casting his spells.

    "I think it's possible to draft a good five color deck – but you need too many things to happen. You need a lot of the gates (which other people are also taking), you need removal, and you need some good creatures. And even if you get everything you want, if you're playing a five color deck, you still might be too slow against the aggressive decks like Selesnya and Rakdos."


    Matt Costa

    Costa also thought a single card was responsible for the limited success of five color decks in Return to Ravnica Booster Drafts. But while Juza pointed out a card (Transguild Promenade) that he thought was too weak, Costa identified a crucial card that he thought was too strong for five color drafters to reliably get them.

    "The good five color decks revolve around Axebane Guardian, and pretty much all the green decks want to play that -- so it can be difficult to get the pieces that you need for the deck to work."

    "The format is reasonably aggressive, and in general that makes it more difficult to play a five color deck, because you're going to be slower."

    But not only are the five color decks typically slower than other decks, there's no guarantee that the five color decks will even be as powerful as other good decks.

    "A lot of the guild based decks are based on synergies -- so some of the more abstractly powerful cards in guilds just won't fit in very well in five color decks. For example: the populate cards, and the aggressive Rakdos cards that are great when you're playing the right guild just aren't very good when you're playing five color".

    So while Juza and Costa both agree that it's possible to draft a good five color deck – a lot has to go right for that to happen. And because you need so many things to go your way, you really shouldn't go into drafts expecting to put together a good five color deck.

    But if you get passed 2 or 3 Axebane Guardians...




     

  • Feature Match Round 14 – Conley Woods vs. Stanislav Cifka, Eric Froehlich vs. Lukas Jaklovsky, Owen Turtenwald vs. Ivan Floch
    by Rich Hagon

  • For the second round in a row, the Channel Fireball crew found themselves the center of attention. With two rounds of the day gone, and four more before the cut to the final two teams, this pair of rounds against the Europeans would be pivotal. With no Slovak Republic team-mates here, Ivan Floch had joined up with two of the bright young Czech players, Lukas Jaklovsky and Stanislav Cifka. Now they would do transatlantic battle against the mighty Fireballers.

    Turtenwald and Floch were first to begin their match, a turn three Centaur Courser for Turtenwald opposite a quick start from Floch, featuring Slitherhead, Keening Apparition, and Wild Beastmaster. Woods, on Azorius, opened on Tower Drake, across from Cifka with Gore-House Chainwalker, a clear Rakdos opening. In the center, Froehlich seemed to be Golgari, with Axebane Guardian fuelling an Unleashed Spawn of Rix Maadi against a fairly exotic manabase for Jaklovsky - Island, Island, Golgari Guildgate, Transguild Promenade. He still seemed predominantly blue-white, however.

    As the early game developed, Woods used Knightly Valor to stabilize the board against the early Rakdos assault. It did, however, make his souped-up Tower Drake a solid target for Dreadbore from Cifka. With Rakdos capable of Dead Reveler on turn three, Viashino Racketeer was a decidedly mild option from Cifka. Woods felt comfortable activating Azorius Keyrune, before adding New Prahv Guildmage to the board. A second Rakdos Shred-Freak arrived for Cifka, who still had five cards in hand. Woods felt the need to trade for his Guildmage, but he still fell to nine.

    That soon became seven, and then came the intriguing rare Volatile Rig. What would it do? Actually, nothing, as Woods had Syncopate at the ready. He was still down to five, though, and Tenement Crasher was next. That could have been game, but Woods had Blustersquall to keep him in the game. Cifka took the chance to list the opposing graveyard before having another attempt to take game one. A second Blustersquall repeated the trick, and then Dramatic Rescue kept Woods alive yet again. Voidwielder bounced the Tenement Crasher which came piling back down. What out was Woods playing for?

    Whatever it was, it wasn't forthcoming.

    Woods 0 - 1 Cifka.


    By this time, Floch had also gone up a game over Turtenwald, leaving Froehlich and Jaklovsky the only match still in game one.

    Turtenwald 0 - 1 Floch.

    In that middle game of the three, Froehlich had used Axebane Guardian to generate red mana in his Golgari deck, allowing him access to Rix Maadi Guildmage. Despite a fair board presence, he wasn't finding it easy to get through Jaklovsky, who had Tower Drake, Voidwielder, and Hussar Patrol on the battlefield.

    In game two, Turtenwald opened on Centaur's Herald, with turn two Lotleth Troll, a strong start. Keening Apparition made sure that Floch wouldn't be too far behind. Turtenwald added a counter to his Troll, synergistically discarding Drudge Beetle, ready to Scavenge later. He turned his Centaur's Herald into a 3/3, having blocked the Keening Apparition. The Centaur wouldn't last long, however, taken down by a Cyclonic Rift from Floch. The man from the Slovak Republic quickly used another rare, this time Martial Law, which should stop too much Lotleth Troll bulldozing his life total.

    Turtenwald cast Grisly Salvage, netting him Corpsejack Menace, before dropping Floch to 11. As it had in game one, Wild Beastmaster arrived for Floch, who had now cast three rares in his first four spells! Down came the Corpsejack Menace for Turtenwald, as Stonefare Crocodile traded for Keening Apparition.

    Froehlich, you may be wondering, was still deep in game one against Jaklovsky, with the board changing slowly, with neither player able to find a winning edge. In Woods against Cifka, the American was in a much better position than game one, with a strong defensive team backed up by potentially game-winning flyers.

    Amongst his many lands, Floch had now added Rogue's Passage, allowing him to send Wild Beastmaster past any Turtenwald defenses. Floch was now detaining Golgari Longlegs each turn with his Martial Law. Another land came along, this time Grove of the Guardian, threatening to make an 8/8 Elemental. That's four rares now, if you're counting along at home.

    Finally, Jaklovsky made the breakthrough against Froehlich, taking down a fairly lengthy game one, followed almost immediately by Woods converting his strong mid-game position against Cifka.

    Froehlich 0 - 1 Jaklovsky

    Woods 1 - 1 Cifka

    Floch made his 8/8, and thanks to the Rogue's Passage it was unblockable. That was quite the problem for Turtenwald, who saw his team of Golgari Longlegs, Ogre Jailbreaker, Centaur Healer, Stonefare Crocodile, and Lotleth Troll left largely irrelevant. He Scavenged that early game Drudge Beetle, turning his Stonefare Crocodile into a 5/4 with potential lifelink.

    Floch turned eveything sideways. The Rogue's Passage made his 8/8 unblockable. Worse was to come, since Giant Growth had given Wild Beastmaster +3+3, and all that bonus had gone to the rest of Floch's team. Almost all of Turtenwald's army bit the dust, and he was left at just one life. Moments later, it was over.

    Turtenwald 0 - 2 Floch

    Into a critical game three, Woods again had a solid start with Vassal Soul and Armory Guard. Cifka had Gore-House Chainwalker and the unspectacular Viashino Racketeer, and that continued to look less exciting as Seller of Songbirds, plus 1/1 bird friend, arrived for Woods. Needing to try and punch through, Cifka aimed Ultimate Price at the Armory Guard, but Woods was ready with a trick of his own, Dramatic Rescue saving the Guard and gaining him two life. Cifka added Ash Zealot and attacked, but it was apparently an uphill struggle, as Woods added Isperia's Skywatch and detained the Gore-House Chainwalker.

    Cifka didn't attack, but he did have a more serious board presence in Golgari Longlegs. Turtenwald and Woods had a lengthy discussion about the next move. Next door, Jaklovsky was putting together a flying force, and although Froehlich had four creatures in play, none seemed super-exciting, Ogre Jailbreaker being currently the best of the bunch.

    After his team-mate conference, Woods began the process of attaacking Cifka, playing his Armory Guard next. Cifka attacked with everything, dropping Woods to 10, and then laying Rakdos, Lord of Riots, which Woods was expecting. He cast Trostani's Judgment, gaining him a Bird token in the process, and setting Cifka right back. Golgari Longlegs attacked for the Czech player, looking to bring the game to five life each. Woods put Armory Guard in the way, before Cifka traded Slum Reaper one for one.

    Woods attacked once more, with Swift Justice taking him across the finish line.

    Woods 2 - 1 Cifka

    That brought the spotlight firmly on to Jaklovsky and Froehlich, with the Czech player leading 1-0. Seller of Songbirds, Voidwielder, and a Bird 1/1 token doesn't sound very exciting, but Jaklovsky had one more non-land permanent - Collective Blessing! Froehlich had Dark Revenant, Trestle Troll, Ogre Jailbreaker, Korozda Monitor, and Axebane Guardian. That Collective Blessing was definitely the defining card on the table.

    One rare deserves another (possibly), and seven mana saw Froehlich cast Grave Betrayal, which Jaklovsky, like many players before and since, wanted to read. Froehlich's Trestle Troll met with Detention Sphere, as a flurry of Czech dialogue plotted the next collective (blessing) move. When Jaklovsky attacked, Froehlich scooped them up, and at the halfway mark in the two-round set, the Europeans were one up with one to play.

    Froehlich 0 - 2 Jaklovsky.




     

  • Sunday, 2:59 p.m. – Izzet Beatdown!
    by Steve Sadin

  • The moment that I acquired enough Return to Ravnica packs to draft with, I started trying to figure out how to put together a good Izzet deck. But despite my best efforts, I've struggled with my favorite color combination.

    I quickly recognized that Frostburn Weird was really good in any deck that had the mana to cast it, and I could tell that there were a lot of other good pieces to work with in Izzet-- but I just couldn't put the puzzle together.

    Fortunately, while I was walking by the top tables of Grand Prix San Jose, I found someone who had an incredibly good handle on how to draft Izzet. Hall of Famer Raphael Levy.


    Raphael Levy Izzet Beatdown
    SanJose Grand Prix - Team Limited


    Aggressive unleash creatures backed up by Blustersquall, with some extra reach from a pair of Guttersnipes?

    Sign me up!

    But beyond seeing these obviously powerful cards and synergies – I needed to learn more about what makes aggressive Izzet decks tick.

    "Chemister's Trick is very important -- nobody likes the card, but it's extremely good. There are three different types of Izzet decks: Izzet Control, Izzet Midrange, and Izzet Aggro. In Izzet Control, Chemister's Trick isn't very good because you don't have enough cheap creatures to block with – but in Izzet Aggro it's great."


    "We used to think that Blustersquall was one of the best cards -- but actually, Chemister's Trick is much better than Blustersquall. With Blustersquall, you need enough power to actually kill your opponent. But with Chemister's Trick, you can kill all of their creatures even if you don't have enough to kill them."

    After you pick up enough cost-efficient creatures, you need to start prioritizing spells.

    "Make sure that you have enough reach. It's hard to win if you don't have cards like Chemister's Trick, and Traitorous Instinct to help you -- but you don't really have to worry about whether or not you'll get them, because they always go around late."

    "Traitorous Instinct is really good in this kind of deck because you need the extra damage, and even Pursuit of Flight (was the last card in my deck) is worth playing because it's pretty much always worth at least 5 damage."

    "Inaction Junction goes really well with my two Guttersnipes, and I do have a couple of removal spells, but most of my cards just deal 5 damage and that's more than enough."

    While the best creatures can be tough to acquire (you have to compete against Rakdos players for the best red creatures, and Azorious players for the best blue fliers) – the fact that the essential spells are all pretty easy to get (at least for now) means that it's very possible to draft a good Izzet deck even if the packs aren't particularly good to you.

    So if you (like me) have been struggling to win with your Izzet decks, then try taking Chemister's Trick earlier, and keeping the casting costs of your creatures low. You won't be disappointed.




     

  • Sunday, 4:04 p.m. – Too Much Thinking
    by Rich Hagon

  • You know that I know that you know the thing that begins 'you know that I know that you know that we both know that we both know the thing that begins 'you know that I know...'

    Aarggghhh! Make it stop.

    Sometimes Magic players think too much, and nothing gets Magic players thinking too much like a new situation, and for most people here this weekend, Team means New. Quite apart from the incredible possibilities afforded by both sealed deck building between three players, and the team drafts of Sunday play, there's an apparently innocuous - even random - detail to this event that could yet decide the destination of the trophy. Here it comes:

    Who plays which deck?

    Now, there's a lot going on with those four words. We could talk about play styles. If you have one player who has never meaningfully cast a counterspell in his life, maybe the Azorius control deck shouldn't be put in his hands. Few players in the world attack for two more often and more correctly than Raphael Levy, so maybe (and you should remember this free tip for the next time you're in a team event alongside Raphael Levy) he should get the aggro deck.

    What else might be at work here? How about overall deck power level? Let's suppose that you have a 10/10 deck, an 8/10 deck, and a 5/10 deck. Now let's suppose that you have a great player, a very good player, and a good player on your team. Of course, every team here believes they feature three great players, but since you're reading this, you're probably not here, which means you also probably know that not everybody in the room is a great player.

    Do you give the best deck to the best player, making him nigh-unbeatable? Let the weakest player get the weakest deck, and just assume that he won't be contributing much on day one? What if you give the best player the middle deck, and then give the middle player the best deck? Maybe you think that simply giving away free wins is dumb, so you need to give your weakest player at least a good deck. What if you give him the best deck, giving him the best possible chance of contributing some victories? How badly do you handicap your best player?

    I'll leave you wrestling with that one, because now things are going to get really head-scratching...

    Assume for a moment that almost team in the building is going to end up with a Rakdos aggro deck. Admittedly, this skips several paragraphs-worth of justification on my part, but for the purposes of this particular thought experiment, just believe that I'm right about this. (Side note: I'm right about this.) Where would you put this Rakdos deck? Seat A, B, or C?

    Your best player should almost always be in seat B. That's because seat B sits in the middle, allowing the B player to most easily keep an eye on his two colleagues. To be fair, if you're Ben Stark, Shuhei Nakamura, or Martin Juza, you probably don't care who sits where, but for most of us mere mortals, having your best player in the middle, ready to dish out good advice, is a really good move. Should you give that player the Rakdos aggro deck? On the plus side, the Rakdos games could be over very quickly, allowing the team leader to devote their attention to team-mates who are still in game two. Or shuffling for game one...

    On the downside, however, the Rakdos aggro deck is pretty linear - it basically looks to present a threat every turn up to turn four, and then ideally a very large, preferably haste monster to break the back of resistance shortly thereafter. There isn't always a ton of 'play' in decks like that. In other words, you might not have enough genuine decisions to make to truly influence the outcome. Generally speaking, the idea that a deck 'plays itself' is a fallacy promoted by control players, most of whom couldn't turn a creature sideways at the right time even if you told them it was a free counterspell with lifegain attached. However, Rakdos aggro really is very 'turn one, do I have a one-drop? turn two, what's my biggest two-drop? turn three, here's my Undead Reveler?'...

    Now comes the really mind-bending bit...

    This time, we'll suppose two things. We'll suppose that almost everyone has a Rakdos aggro deck. We'll also assume that almost everyone has worked out that giving Rakdos to the team leader is the way forward. One of the things we've learned from the first couple of weeks of Return to Ravnica is that there are certain cards that are great against particular archetypes and weak against others. If you knew that eight of your ten seat B opponents would be running Rakdos, wouldn't you want to build a deck that you knew was good against Rakdos? Here's a clue: you would.

    And at that point we're going to leave this episode of Thinking Too Much, as I can already sense several of you halfway through this:

    'So I know that you know that I know you have Rakdos and that I know that you know that I know that you're going to be Rakdos in seat B, but since you know that I know that you know that the place for Rakdos is seat B, I know that you're going to put Rakdos somewhere else, and so...'

    Enjoy the mind games, and don't think too hard. Unless, of course, you believe that you can never think too hard...




     

  • Sunday, 4:10 p.m. – Quick Hits: What Return to Ravnica card are you the most excited to see play in Standard?
    by Nate Price

  • Gerry Thompson
    Heh, uh... Steam Vents? No, it's gotta be Rakdos Cackler. Now, every deck has access to some really good one-drops. It's possible to play monocolor aggro decks in Standard now.
    David Ochoa
    ...
    ...heh.
    ... I know what I want to say, but I'm sure someone else had to say it.
    Uh, Pack Rat? Too bad it dies to literally everything. I predict that Pack Rat/Eldrazi Monument is the wave of the future.

    Patrick Chapin
    Jace, Architect of Thought. Is there another card? Other than Jace? Well, I don't know. I like cards like Supreme Verdict, but I don't want people to see that and (sarcastically) go, 'What?! You like cards like Wrath of God?! Shocker!' Hmm... Oh, I know! Rakdos Keyrune. It is the Raging Ravine of Keyrunes. It does so many things for decks...it is just better by far than the other Keyrunes.
    Brad Nelson
    Jace, Architect of Thought, and it isn't close. Other than Jace? Uh... how about...Underworld Connections. (This got a very strange look from Jacob van Lunen beside him) Underworld Connections makes you think a little more about building your deck with an emphasis on answers rather than threats. I mean, you hurt your tempo a bit considering you have to effectively destroy one of your lands to do something, but the stream of cards is so powerful. I think that this card is one of the reasons that you will see a powerful, attrition-y Jund deck in Standard before too long.
    And Patrick is an idiot. There is no way that the Rakdos Keyrune is the best Keyrune. It's gotta be...
    Wait...Rakdos?
    Never mind. For some reason I thought you said Izzet. I was going to argue that Rakdos is easily the best. I'm sorry. You aren't an idiot.



     

  • Sunday, 4:18 p.m. – Counter Drafting
    by Steve Sadin

  • When you're playing in an 8 player Booster Draft, "counter drafting" (the act of taking a good card that you know you won't play so nobody else can have it) cards away from the other players at your table usually won't improve your chances of winning a draft by any significant margin. In fact, if you're giving up on a card that would be good for your own deck just so you can make one of the other 7(!) decks at the table a little bit weaker – then you can seriously hurt your chances of winning.

    But in a six person Team Booster Draft, counter drafting cards away from your opponents can play a huge role in helping (or hurting) your team's chances to win.

    Conley Woods

    While many players will preach the importance of counter drafting in Team Drafts – two time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Conley Woods went into this weekend with a different approach.

    "I think counter drafting is a little overrated in Team Drafts. If you're not experienced at it -- I think that you should try to shy away from counter drafting, except for taking the 'I win cards', and just draft like you would normally. Because if you try to counter draft, and you do it wrong, you can end up hurting yourself and your teammates much more than you hurt your opponents."

    "You just have to take the I win cards though, even if you don't think that the player you're passing to can play it, it just isn't worth the risk. For example, in the last draft we did Owen Turtenwald passed a Rakdos, Lord of Riots. He thought it was relatively safe because you have to be heavy red and heavy black to play it, and he didn't think that the player to his left was Rakdos. But Owen was wrong, and he gave our opponents a really good card."

    Conley(center) is not happy about the fact that Owen passed Rakdos, Lord of Riots in their last draft.

    "But when it comes down to hate drafting a moderate card like Dramatic Escape, or taking something for your sideboard like Aerial Predation – you should just take the card for your sideboard. If it turns out that the player to your left is playing green, and not Azorious like you had thought, then you'll have given up on a good sideboard card for yourself, given the player to your left a good sideboard card, all so that you could take a card away from your own teammate."

    So while you might feel tempted to take every good card that you seen when you're team drafting (so as to deprive your opponents of those good cards) – if you do this with reckless abandon, then it might be your teammates who are left without good decks thanks to your nefarious strategy.




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