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2004 United States National Championship Feature

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The letter E!ntering the last draft round, only Pat Sullivan, Mike Hall and Peter Swarowski had gone through the tournament without a Limited loss. Pat lost his bid to go undefeated by losing to Osyp Lebedowicz in the final round, and Mike Hall beat Peter Swarowski in a neighboring feature match to become the only player to go 7-0 in Limited this weekend. After the round was over, I talked to all three players about their strategies, and what it takes to be successful in the post-Fifth Dawn draft environment.

Mike Hall

(from Portland, grinded in via Constructed)

TW: You're the only player to go undefeated in draft this weekend. What was your strategy?

Ferocious Charge

Hall: Black and red are really good, splashing green. Green is really good with Tel-Jilad guys, the 2/3 regenerators, the pro-artifact guys. Then you have Ferocious Charge, Echoing Courage and Predator's Strike.

TW: And in red and black?

Hall: Definitely in Mirrodin, Electrostatic Bolt, Spikeshot Goblin, just removal. Barter in Blood too. I got it first pick, and I played it against Gerard Fabiano. I had a Tangle Asp out, and he had a Wargeared Juggernaut and an Archeologist. I swung for one, and cast Barter in Blood, which pretty much saved me the game.

TW: What colors was your first deck?

Hall: It was all green except for four red cards, which were two Electrostatic Bolt, Shatter and Vedalken Sorcerer.

TW: Really? Splashing for that?

Hall: It's really good, and I had a Bauble to go get the second red if I needed it.

TW: And your second deck was green with?

Hall: Just black.

TW: What are your thoughts on Sunburst?

Hall: It is powerful, but I don't think you should go out of your way to get it.

TW: Most pros seemed to not like green at all when the format was just Mirrodin and Darksteel. Do you think that evaluation was wrong, or that Fifth Dawn changed things?

Hall: Yeah, definitely. Especially Ferocious Charge, that card is just insane. I got a green Bringer, Tangle Asp is really good.

TW: Do you have any advice for players that are still trying to figure out how to draft this format?

Hall: Practice a lot, and read up on what other people draft.

TW: And you're from Portland?

Hall: Yeah, I'm a prodigy of Chris Benafel, Brian Hegstad and Eric Franz. I qualified for Nationals a few years ago at Regionals, but I couldn't come because my high school baseball team was in the playoffs.

TW: What position do you play?

Hall: I bat leadoff and play center field. I play in college now for a community college in Oregon.

TW: Anything else?

Hall: I hope Affinity doesn't let me down. (There were four rounds of Constructed to go.)

Pat Sullivan

TW: What was your draft strategy coming into this weekend?

Sullivan: Force red-black, I was red-black in both drafts.

TW: Is there a specific reason?

Rain of Rust

Sullivan: I just think you can't go wrong having good creatures and good removal. I think that drafting a red-black deck of card quality "X" will always beat a different color combination with the same card quality. It just seems to be the most powerful strategy.

TW: Are there any cards that seemed to be evaluated improperly in your drafts?

Sullivan: I got a fairly late Atog, which is really good in red-black. A lot of times, you try to draft with modular creatures. A lot of your picks in the first pack are going to be artifact creatures, because the red and black creatures aren't very good. Just having some way to sacrifice creatures allows you to move around modular counters really well. For the same reason in the third set, Thermal Navigator is actually pretty good. Once again, it allows you to move your modular counters around and there aren't many picks for a red-black player in Fifth Dawn.

I just think that the whole Sunburst thing is overrated as a draft strategy. I'd rather draft a more consistent deck with removal and guys.

TW: That's really funny, because it seems that this weekend, a lot of people have been looking more towards green and white, whereas before they'd completely avoid those colors.

Sullivan: Yeah, I guess the idea is that in the first pack, green and white aren't especially good, and if you draft it, people are less likely to move in on it. But, that's not the case anymore, because some people are actively looking to draft Sunburst from the get-go. So, you're at a disadvantage if you try to force that. But, red and black are so deep in the first pack that you really can't get screwed even if the person to your right is sharing one or both of your colors. And then even if you're cut off hard enough, Darksteel rewards you more for drafting red-black than Fifth Dawn does for drafting Sunburst.

TW: So, over this weekend do you think you've been getting better shots at red and black cards because people have been shifting that way?

Sullivan: I actually never really got a clean shot. There was always a red or black player to both my left and right in both drafts. In my first draft, my picks in Darksteel went Echoing Ruin, Arcbound Stinger, Arcbound Stinger, Dross Golem. Those aren't the most exciting picks for a red-black deck, but the color combination is just so deep that if you know how to draft it and can pick up the cards that other people don't evaluate properly…

TW: Such as?

Sullivan:Rain of Rust! People are like, "I can't even believe you're playing that" and it's really comparable to Pinpoint Avalanche, I think. People are like, "Why would you play that when Shatter costs two mana?" but Pinpoint Avalanche cost five mana and Shock cost one, and they both functionally, generally did the same thing. It's just more removal. In the first round of this draft actually, my opponent went fifth turn Domain (one of every basic land type), with no land search. Just forest, island, mountain, you know. Then in the third game I was just Rain of Rusting his other lands, and he couldn't cast any spells.

Red-black's hardest matchups are green decks. Either you draft the creature removal and you can lose to equipment and artifact removal, or you draft the artifact removal and you just lose to a Fangren Hunter. Osyp's deck was excellent and I got blown out in no short order, but in the other matchups I played I felt I had the advantage the whole time.

TW: Anything else?

Sullivan: Make sure to play Rain of Rust. If you're red-black, don't cut it from your deck.

Peter Swarowski

(from Las Vegas)

TW: What was your draft strategy this weekend?

Swarowski: I was looking to draft blue or white, I think they're really strong colors. In the first draft I opened a Warhammer and just went with white, I got a couple of Cubs and a Sun Standard pretty late. I picked up some blue in the second pack, which was really low on white. I thought that maybe the guy had cut me off.

TW: Well, this is Darksteel.

Domineer

Swarowski: Right. I was expecting to maybe get a Razor Golem, or anything. I first picked a Morningstar, then Bola, then picks three through eight I got nothing. Somehow I wheeled a (Pteron) Ghost and got a tenth pick (Neurok) Prodigy. The last pack was pretty good for me too. In my second draft I opened Domineer, and it looked like a pretty tough draft table. I figured that Gerard Fabiano would go Sunburst like a lot of the other pros, and Domineer just wrecks them when you steal their 6/6 guy. It's a huge tempo swing. So I opened Domineer, then I got a third pick Terror, and a fifth pick Somber Hoverguard or something. I second picked a Spikeshot and I was thinking about going either blue-red or blue-black. In the second pack I picked up Psychic Overload, and some fairly late black removal- Essence Drain and Echoing Decay. In the third pack I opened Vedalken Shackles, which is extremely broken. I've won a few games strictly off that. I took Cranial Plating, and splashed red for two Suntouched Myrs and Infused Arrows.

TW: Do you think there were any cards that were undervalued this weekend?

Swarowski: I got Guardian Idol seventh pick, which is pretty late. It's strong, it's like a Talisman that can attack later. I don't really like green and I think red's gone down a lot. I don't know what people are talking about with green, it's not very good in the last pack. You just get Sunburst.

TW: So you think Sunburst isn't worth it?

Swarowski: I drafted in a 4-on-4 two nights ago and Neil Reeves had an insane Sunburst deck, but he also got all the cards he needed. It seems pretty strong if you can get…it seems to be how Affinity was in the beginning, where you can get the late picks that no one else likes, and they really help you out a lot. I haven't drafted it yet and I'd like to.

TW: So is it just that you decided to stick with what you know?

Swarowski: It's just the way the packs were. I opened Domineer and stuck with blue. If the draft is going that way I'll try it, sure, because you get really late Sunburst picks.

TW: What advice would you give to people who are still trying to figure this format out?

Swarowski: Just draft a lot, and be open to new ideas, try new cards out every so often. Also, you usually don't want to go in with a set plan, you want to be very reactive. Send signals and pick up signals.

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