Saturday afternoon 8 of us gathered at Wizards of the Coast for another session of Live Vintage Rotisserie draft. Click here
to read about my first foray into this format. Vintage Rotisserie is not going to be fun unless you've been playing Magic for a long time, but if you have been then it's pretty awesome. I wound up going 6-1 and I've already clinched first place with a tutor-iffic black combo deck that might be one of the best decks you can realistically hope to draft in the format.
Here's a link to the draft
. Most of us had done at least 1 of these before and I thought the quality of the draft and the decks was a lot higher this time. I did a fair amount of thinking after my first attempt and I knew I did not want to try to draft one of the "type 1" decks, as you just can't get enough of the broken cards to make something like Storm or Stax work consistently. My goal was to get into an archetype where no one was competing with me for cards and where the card pool had enough redundancy and flexibility that I could react to what other people were drafting. Part of me wanted to draft an aggro creature deck, and I was toying with the idea of first-picking Skullclamp as a signal for folks to get out of my way, but a) I strongly suspected that the pendulum had swung and a bunch of folks would want creature decks and b) I was having a lot of fun thinking about Reanimator. The more I thought about potential archetypes the more it seemed like artifact decks would be plagued with inconsistency, blue decks would be plagued with competition for cards, and I either wanted a beatdown archetype all to myself or I wanted Reanimator.
Once I drew up a Reanimator template and saw how well the card pool lined up with it, I was pretty sure that's want I wanted to draft. As long as no one else went heavy black, I could spend the early rounds grabbing my share of fast mana, tutors, and broken cards. Then it should be easy to grab 5-10 fatties, 6-8 reanimation spells, 4-6 ways to get fatties into my graveyard, 6ish utility/disruption cards, and I'd still have room for a 4 card back-up plan. I went into the draft with a list of cards in each of those categories that no one else would want and I figured I would either splash blue or green. The blue plan was contingent on how the first few rounds of the draft went. In theory I figured I could grab assorted power, extra tutors, and if things went really well I hoped I might be able to take the Time Vault/Voltaic Key combo (and Tezzeret), which I knew would be awesome with all the tutors I intended to draft. (In retrospect I don't think there's enough room in the early rounds to establish yourself as a black mage and also grab those cards so I'm glad I wound up not trying.) The green plan was to take Survival of the Fittest and Fauna Shaman as two of my ways to get stuff into the graveyard. I could then use green mana acceleration critters too, and both Living Death and Recurring Nightmare would be much better as reanimation spells. This was the way I was hoping things would play out, but it required Survival to last until about round 10 plus it wanted there to be no competition for green mana creatures. Anyway, I also had "audible into Ernha-Geddon (a la Pikula)" and "audible into CMU Blue" as back-ups plans, but Reanimator was definitely my focus as the draft began.
Everyone in the room seemed to agree that the best 3 cards are Black Lotus, Sol Ring, and Ancestral Recall in some order. The good news about an early pick is that you get one of those cards. The bad news is that you have basically no ability to stake out an archetype or send a signal. You just take the one of those 3 that fits your preferred archetype and then hope things work out. Mostly you have to wait until the second round and see what has happened before you get to interact with the draft.
Zac Hill took the Lotus first and seemed to be toying with storm combo for a couple of rounds. However (as he and I discussed later) if you take the draw-7's with your early picks then you won't have any fast mana or any other broken cards. First he wheeled Strip Mine and Dark Confidant (the one good black card I did *not* want
) and then he wheeled Chrome Mox and Mox Diamond. If everyone shied away and the various draw-7's slipped into the round 6+ range, I think he would have moved in and tried it. However, the Timetwister went two picks later and the Time Spiral went right before his 6th round pick so instead Zac decided to go heavy black disruption. He wheeled Duress and Thoughtseize, which were cards I very much wanted, but it would have been thoroughly unrealistic to imagine myself as the only black mage, so fair enough. He wound up with the efficient aggro creature and disruption side of black so after fighting over the disruption we weren't competing for too much else.
Dave Guskin took the Ancestral second overall. He then took Library of Alexandria and Mana Drain in the late 2nd and early 3rd. I liked this plan a lot as I think you can draft a really nice mono-blue control deck in the format even while competing for cards. There have obviously been a ton of counterspells printed over the years and there's enough control magic's and artifact removal spells that you can draft something that templates pretty closely to the Draw-Go style decks that were so good in the late 90's. (Also, Zac almost won our previous draft with a deck along these lines.) Dave was looking good with Force of Will in the 4th and then it's hard to blame him for grabbing Tinker in the 5th round, but he had no artifacts and all the really good ones were gone already so that might actually have been a mistake. He then seemed to get distracted a bit by shiny baubles like Time Spiral, Mind's Desire, and Memory Jar (admittedly a juicy Tinker target but only really great if you have the right deck around it). From there Dave wound up going aggro-control with assorted Faeires, Psychatag, Shadowmage Infiltrator, a really late Thada Adel, etc. Maybe I'm just biased by my fond memories of CMU Blue, but that's definitely what I would have done in Dave's seat.
Mike Turian (who was playing the format for the first time) took the obvious 3rd pick Sol Ring. He'd mentioned to me that he was tempted by White Weenie so I'm sure he was disappointed that the Mox Pearl went right before his second round pick. He took Mishra's Workshop, which made a ton of sense to me at the time. It's incredibly explosive and the fact that he's getting it 14th overall indicates that no one else is trying to run a heavy-artifact strategy. He then got Tolarian Academy in the 3rd round and Mana Crypt in the 4th, which have to be exactly what you're hoping will slide into those rounds if you're headed this way. He wound up with some blue cards and then when Balance became too tempting to ignore in round 16 he added white. Overall his deck had some big artifact dudes to attack with and some artifact control elements and some white control elements as well. As I write this he's 2-4 with one match left to play, which is obviously a bit of a surprising record for a Hall of Famer. I'm still trying to figure out how much of that is unfamiliarity with the format (it definitely takes some getting used to both the draft and the play of the games, and I know he lost multiple really close 3-game matches) and how much is the inherent inconsistency of the artifact archetype. When he draws the Workshop his deck is amazing, and he demolished me in two straight games where he had access to 5 mana on turn 1 both times, but I think this archetype needs to be drafted in such a way that it can win without a lot of early mana acceleration (not that I have a good idea how to actually do that).
Aaron Forsythe drafted 4th and he sent the first pick Skullclamp signal. He then took the last Mox (the Pearl) in round 2 and Enlightened Tutor then made a lot of sense in round 3. Fastbond-Wasteland-Crucible of Worlds gave him some pretty scary potential, and his 10th pick Survival of the Fittest ended my dreams of splashing green. Interestingly, Fauna Shaman then went two picks later to the other green mage and neither one of them was in a position to do anything exciting with them, After that Aaron settled down into an Elves archetype that he didn't seem super happy with at the end of the day. It was a bit schiziophrenic - wanting to be both a beatdown deck and a combo deck and not being able to do either plan well enough to win consistently (he's currently 3-2). I know Dave had also sketched out an Elves archetype before the draft, and it does seem like that deck wants a lot of cards that no one else wants, so it's probably still a viable archetype. The trick is probably to figure out what other packages of cards have good synergy with it.
I drafted 5th and my first big decision might have been the most important: Mox Sapphire or Mox Jet? The Sapphire is the better card (as blue has better cards than black and blue also benefits more from getting an extra early mana), but I knew everyone would know that so taking the Jet over the Sapphire would send a powerful signal and hopefully the folks downstream of me would stay away from black. In retrospect this worked out spectacularly well. The draft wound up with only one other person playing a meaningful amount of black (plus Guskin splashed in some gold cards and the Bitterblossom). In round 2 I took Mox Emerald, both because I wanted more fast mana and because I still had "splash green" as my plan A. (This turned out to tip over a bunch of dominos as Forsythe wanted the Emerald but settled for the Pearl and Turian wanted the Pearl but instead went Workshop, not that I saw any of that coming when I made the pick.) With the fast mana gone by round 3 I set about solidifying myself as the black mage: Demonic Tutor, Yawgmoth's Will, Vampiric Tutor, Mind Twist, Dark Ritual, Necropotence. The Will isn't great in Reanimator, but it's still a card I was happy to have and mostly I didn't want to leave it on the board as something that would tempt someone else into black. Necro is somewhat similar in that it's less powerful than you think, since you can't access it reliably enough to build a "necro deck," but it's still plenty good enough to play, especially at the low price of an 8th round pick. (It would have been a lot better in Zac's deck, fwiw, but he would have had to take it on that first wheel where he declared black and let me have Duress or Thoughtseize instead.)
This was about when the Survival and Fauna Shaman went. I had already been leaning away from the green splash anyway since there were multiple green drafters plus so little competition for black that mono-black began to seem viable. The blue drafters were already taking stuff like Thirst for Knowledge so the pickings looked slim there as well. I took Painter's Servant, figuring i could let the Grindstone slide for a while and that 2 card combo would fit my deck really well, especially after I spent my next few rounds scooping up the rest of the decent tutors (Imperial Seal and Grim Tutor). I publicly declared my intention to draft reanimator with a 12th round Buried Alive and the rest was easy. The most interesting things that happened late were that I had to draft what I feared were embarrassingly bad discard outlets, but Putrid Imp and Sickening Dreams both turned out to be great. Last Rites also seemed good enough. Meanwhile while randomly looking over the cards on the table I stumbled across Dark Depths and suddenly remembered that the Vampire Hexmage combo not only exists, but would be absolutely perfect for my deck. I'll give you my decklist once I finish talking through the draft.
Greg Marques took Time Walk 6th overall and got a bit of a gift when the Sapphire was still there at #11 overall. He took Mana Vault and Jace with his next two and wound up adding green to his deck relatively quickly because he knew he wanted to play with Trygon Predator. The resulting brew had some really exciting moments, including Channeling out Emrakul three different times.
Dwayne St. Arnauld took Time Vault 7th, ending my delusions on that front pretty early. He then locked up the combo by taking Voltaic Key at #10 overall (and Tezzeret with his next pick). There's been a lot of debate in our group about when to take the Key. Last draft Aaron took Time Vault first but tried to float the Key and I took it in round 5 to pair with my Grim Monolith et al. I actually wonder if you took the Key first, would anyone else even want the Time Vault? In any case, you probably don't have to take the Key in the second round, but I think you have to take it by round 4 or you risk losing it to the artifact-heavy deck. I like the way Dwayne's deck turned out a lot. He's got decent control elements, a bunch of artifact tutors, and he's got the High Tide pieces in there too. He only had time to play 4 matches before he left, but he won 3 of them (losing the third to me). Everyone other than he and I has at least 2 losses already.
Mons Johnson had the wheel and to the surprise of absolutely no one, he signaled Goblins by taking the Ruby and the Wheel. From there he was essentially drafting by himself (with the exception of a few removal spells). The 8-9 wheel seems like the obvious place for this to happen and that's how each of our two drafts has gone.
Here's the current standings (we got through about 70% of the matches before breaking up around 9pm):
And here's how my deck turned out:
Reanimation spells (6): Animate Dead, Dance of the Dead, Necromancy, Life/Death, Exhume, Living Death.
Zac grabbed my Reanimate (and I think ran it main to reanimate anything juicy that he knocked out of opponent hands), which was annoying, but 6 was all I needed anyway and I had a 7th (Dread return) in my sideboard. Note that the first three were my highest priority since they allow for the Worldgorger Dragon combo.
Tutors (5): Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal, Grim Tutor, Beseech the Queen.
I also drafted Insidious Dreams and Diabolic Tutor, but decided they were both too slow to run. The biggest revelation to me about my deck from playing it was how amazingly powerful it was to be able to tutor up whatever I needed to fix any given hand, so maybe those actually belonged in the deck. Demonic Consultation was tempting as Consulting for 1-of's is better than most people think, but it's still obviously risky so I decided against.
Ways to get stuff into the graveyard (6): Entomb, Buried Alive, Putrid Imp, Sickening Dreams, Last Rites, Bazaar of Bagdad
I also drafted Cabal Therapy since you can target yourself, but then quickly realized how hard it would be to hit an opponent with it so decided against. I really wish I had gotten Thoughtseize since it too can target you. There were several games where i was on the draw and just declined to play any cards so I could discard a fatty. In retrospect, I actually think I was supposed to be choosing draw in order to set this up. I had at least 3 hands that I had to mulligan which would have been great if I was drawing first and could discard a fatty on turn 1.
Fatties (7): Grave Titan, Platinum Angel, Oona Queen of the Fae, Worldgorger Dragon, Stormtide Leviathan, Terastrodon, Iona
i also drafted Bogardan Hellkite, Angel of Despair, Sphinx of the Steel Wind, Akroma, It That Betrays, and Emperor Laquatus. It was a lot of fun to just keep drafting all the best fatties of all time, and drafting this many also made sideboarding fun as I got to think about which fatties were the best against each individual opponent. Each of them made it into the deck at some point with the exception of Laquatus, which was just a draft error. (I needed somebody that I could sink infinite mana into when I pulled off the Worldgorger combo and hadn't thought of Oona until someone pointed out her existence after I drafted Laquatus. Oona is both a) hard-castable in my deck and also b) exiles the cards thus beating anyone running reshuffle effects (like the one on Emrakul). I'm really not sure if 6, 7, or 8 was the right number to have in the deck and I had games where I had too many and games where I had too few so i was probably about right. Grave Titan did win one game by getting hard cast. Iona is obviously the best one to reanimate alone. Worldgorger got me at least two instant-win's so I do think it's worth having (though note that it does need help ... you have to either have an instant speed kill with your infinite mana or be able to switch to Oona as your [Animate Dead] target to break the loop and then kill them with infinite mana).
Disruption/Utility (5): Mind Twist, Yawgmoth's Will, Necropotence, Damnation, Nevinyrral's Disk
I probably should have run Darkblast main (I think I could have turned a game loss into a win if it was available to Entomb for (versus Mesmeric Fiend and other weenies). I never actually cast the Disk, but the Damnation was excellent. I had more creature removal and more discard in my graveyard, and would tailor these slots based on my opponent. I also took some hosers relatively early in the draft since I knew a) i was competing for them (unlike my main deck cards) and b) I knew I could access them with tutors. Engineered Plague was the first of these, then Pithing Needle, Null Rod, and Infernal Darkness.
"Back-Up Plans" (4): Vampire Hexmage, Dark Depths, Grindstone, Painter's Servant
The way my deck actually played it was like I had three different combos (these two plus Fatty-Reanimate) and I would just shuffle up my opening hand and figure out which one I was playing for in this particular game. Hexmage-Dark Depths is so ridiculously mana efficient that it usually became plan A if I drew either half plus a tutor.
Mana Acceleration (3): Lotus Petal, Lion's Eye Diamond, Dark Ritual
The Lion's Eye was a mistake as it's too narrow. It's good with Yawgmoth's Will and it's ok to sac as a response to a tutor, but that's about it. I kind of which there was more fast mana available to me in black, but it just doesn't exist.
Land (24): Mox Jet, Mox Emerald, Cabal Coffers, Urborg Tomb of Yawgmoth, Swamp x 20
My deck was much faster than I anticipated and I think Coffers was actually a mistake. Meanwhile Urborg was particularly useful in draws that included Dark Depths or Bazaar of Bagdad as those two lands are *much* better if they also tap for mana. The other hidden advantage of my deck is those 20 basic swamps. We did a 65 round draft and gave folks as much basic land as they wanted. If you spent a lot of your draft picks on lands then you didn't have nearly as many picks to spend on sideboard cards. 20 swamps means I had a 25 card sideboard and I was usually swapping in 5ish cards per match. I'm not sure I took full advantage of this opportunity, but it's worth noting as an advantage to going mono-color in the format.
Rd. 1 I played against Mons and his goblin raiders. (Yes, he's that Mons.) Both games were fairly lopsided. In game 1 I chose to play for turn 4 Damnation instead of turn 4 fatty (in case he had enough burn to kill my fatty) and that took all the steam out of his attack. Stormtide Leviathan came out a turn later while I was still on 14 life and then Platinum Angel started attacking alongside the big fish. In game 2 he double mulliganned, but I think I was in great shape even against a good draw. My hand included both Sphinx of the Steel Wind and two reanimation spells so I used my Imperial Seal to go get Sickening Dreams. It allowed me to both wipe out his first two goblins and also put the Sphinx in the bin so I could animate her on turn 3. I promptly drew into an Entomb and Akroma was also in play by turn 5.
Round 2 was against Dwayne. I got to go first in game 2 and I had Putrid Imp, Stormtide Leviathan, and Life/Death in my opening draw. His turn 2 play was Isochron Scepter imprinting Memory Lapse, but with an 8/8 already in play on my side it was a little bit late. In game 2 he apparently had his Time Vault combo ready to deploy on turn 4, but we didn't get there. He tapped out for Preordain and then Time Vault on his third turn against my board of Swamp, Bazaar of Bagdad, and nothing else (with Vampiric Tutor as the only card in my graveyard). I informed him that he was dead, as I had the Worldgorger in my hand along with a Swamp and the Animate Dead that I had tutor'ed up. With Bazaar in play I was sure to find the Oona as some point in the cycle so that was game.
My third opponent was Dave and my deck was way too fast for him. Both games involved 20/20 indestructible creatures coming into play on my side really quickly, including a draw where I just drew both pieces (no tutors necessary) and also drew Mox Jet so I could deploy the entire combo by turn 2. He had dreams of breaking stuff up with venser, but things just happened too quickly and venser never got online.
After Dave came Zac. I took two mulligans before game 1 and he grabbed my Grim Tutor with Mesmeric Fiend, but I still almost won this game. This is where i wished I had Darkblast in my deck to Entomb for, especially when I followed up Entomb by top-decking Buried Alive. I then drew into a Damnation but he had Hymn to Tourach to knock the tutor out of my hand before I could untap. Any top-decked reanimation spell would still have been good enough, but none showed up.
Game 2 was a tough one. He had a nice draw with some aggression and I was tight on mana thanks to his Strip Mine when the following decision came up: I have Darkblast in the graveyard (but no fatties). My hand includes Grave Titan, Last Rites, and Life/Death. If I top-deck a third land (or a Mox) I can Last Rites him, discarding a fatty to reanimate on the next turn and knocking any answers he might have out of his hand. However, if I dredge back my Darkblast and hit a fatty then I get to animate something right now. So I get one draw at 20ish mana cards or I can flip 3 cards hoping for one of 7 fatties. I think I was right to decline dredge and hope to draw mana, but when Akroma turned out to be my top card it definitely stung a little. She's a completely blank draw, but would have been the best fatty in my deck to reanimate against him. Things went from bad to worse when he played out Leyline of the Void on his next turn, essentially turning off my reanimation engine forever (since I had sided out my Disk). I did finally draw a third land but had no action until I drew Demonic Tutor. I figured out that my only chance to win was to tutor for Dark Ritual, hope I drew swamp #4 on the following turn, and this would allow me to hard-cast the Grave Titan that was the only thing of value left in my hand. It worked! I drew the land that time and with the Titan in play along with enough zombies to block and trade with his attackers, he was drawing very slim and I mopped up a few turns later.
Game 3 was another nice one. He kept Swamp, Lotus, Hymn, and Withered Wretch with no other lands, which seems entirely correct to keep. I felt good when he Hymned Iona and Worldgorger Dragon out of my hand, seemingly doing me a favor, but he then played out the Withered Wretch. I had Sickening Dreams in hand so in theory I could kill the Wretch, but after having been Hymned there weren't many cards left to pitch. I decided to play the game for one of my other combos and save my cards (one of which was a Grim Tutor). I don't remember which combo ended up killing him, but he took quite a while to draw land #2 so I was under very little pressure.
Against Aaron I killed his turn 1 creature with turn 2 Sickening Dreams and then reanimated something saucy on turn 3. In game 2 I skipped my first turn in order to discard a fatty only to have him tutor for Tormod's Crypt. I had my Pithing Needle so he blew his Crypt when I played Needle (i randomly named Skullclamp). Luckily I drew into another discard outlet and had a fatty in play via the graveyard by turn 4 despite his Crypt. He did win two of the fun games. One was because i was a chicken and didn't go all-in on Terastrodon. (If I had turned all of my own land into 3/3's then I would have won, but instead he played Imperious Perfect and suddenly my 9/9 ground pounder wasn't so exciting.) The other fun game involved him getting Squirrel Nest / Earthcraft at the same time I got Dark Depths / Hexmage. I was going to fly over an infinite number of summoning sick squirrels for the win, but he top-deck Reveillark (or maybe it was the land for Reveillark) and suddenly had a chump blocker that could also tap (after blocking) to start the avalanche of squirrels.
I took game 1 from Greg with a super-quick Marit Lage token and he responded by taking game 2 in spectacular fashion, before I even played my first permanent. He went turn 1 mana vault (off a forest). I skipped my turn 1 so i could discard a fatty (with a reanimation spell in hand). He went turn 2 Flood Grove into Bribery ... for Iona ... naming black, of course. I didn't have enough turns available to play out a Disk even if it was on top of my library, so I scooped. In game 3 Iona decided to play for my team. He's two color, but all his answers to a giant flier were blue so that pretty much iced it.
Against Turian I mulliganned and he played Mishra's Workshop, Sol Ring, and Smokestack on his first turn. I was able to respond with a turn 2 Last Rites (thanks to a Mox), discarding two and setting up whatever reanimation spell I was hoping would come off the top of my deck. He showed me Su Chi, Wurmcoil Engine, Juggernaut, Land, Island, and Aether Spellbomb. It was at this point that I looked into the standings and verified that, yes, I had already clinched first place even if I lost this match.
He said he was in love with his draw even before he top-decked the Workshop on turn 1. His game 2 draw may have been even better: Mana Crypt, Zuran Orb, and Mox Opal let him Thirst for Knowledge and set up turn 2 Processor (for 7) *and* Balance, saccing both his lands to Zuran Orb so I would be down to 2 cards and no permanents while he had access to four mana and a Processor. Totally sick draw!
There you go — probably more detail than any of you wanted, but I continue to find this format fun to think and talk about. After my first experience I thought the format might actually be about fair decks, but the deck I drafted this time was definitely not playing fair. It's been a while since I got to feel like I broke a format, but that's how I felt yesterday. We're probably running it again next Saturday. Time to try to break it again!