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Attention to Detail #49
As Above, So Below
by Jordan Kronick
February 12, 2007

One of my main focuses in Attention to Detail has been examination of limited Magic, especially booster drafting.  It's my favorite format and I think more people would agree than disagree with that statement.  Booster drafting is a great way to test more skills than just those which come up during the game itself.  I've spent a lot of time examining the kind of situations that come up during any old draft around the kitchen table or local game store.  After all, the best thing about drafting is that it's just as interesting at that selfsame kitchen table as it is in the feature match area of a Pro Tour.  However, that's exactly where I'm headed today. 

 

This past weekend was held Pro Tour: Geneva.  The first Pro Tour of the season and a limited pro tour to boot.  Utilizing still-fresh Planar Chaos cards, it has set the stage for the rest of the Pro Tour season.  I'm pleased to note that the winner of Geneva is American Mike Hron.  The first American to win a limited Pro Tour since 2001.  Nice to see that the Japanese don't win every time.  So I thought I'd take a look at Hron's draft deck that carried him to a $40,000 victory this weekend.  If we can't learn a little something from a deck that provided that paycheck, where can we learn?  Without further ado, here's the list;

 

1x Stonebrow, Krosan Hero

1x Corpulent Corpse

1x Trespasser il-Vec

1x Shadow Guildmage

1x Ashcoat Bear

1x Greenseeker

1x Spectral Force

1x Thallid Germinator

1x Yavimaya Dryad

2x Darkheart Sliver

1x Citanul Woodreaders

1x Deadwood Treefolk

1x Essence Warden

1x Giant Dustwasp

1x Mire Boa

 

1x Chromatic Star

1x Gauntlet of Power

1x Strangling Soot

1x Search for Tomorrow

1x Tromp the Domains

1x Wurmcalling

1x Midnight Charm

 

9x Forest

1x Mountain

7x Swamp

 

First things first, let's look at the land that Mike decided to use for this deck.  17 lands is a good number, and is my favorite number.  Just like three eggs makes an omelette the right size, 17 lands make a mana base happy.  I find that I do better in drafting formats that don't mess with this number.  In any case, the colors are as important as the numbers here.  9 forests and 7 swamps.  As we can see from looking at the spells in his deck, the greens outnumber the blacks.  And we arrive at this lovely number.  The 1 mountain, of course, is for casting both Stonebrow and the flashback on Strangling Soot.  As an added bonus, it can add a point from Tromp the Domains and use the red activation on Shadow Guildmage.  It's searchable with the Search for Tomorrow and the deck isn't heavily reliant on any particularly color, so this seems fine.  With me so far?  Mana can be a bit dull, but it's a good idea to remember the fundamentals of building a mana base.  This mana base could have easily been split 8/1/8 rather than 9/1/7.  Would that have made a difference?  It's very possible.   Note that none of the black spells require more than one black mana.  This, combined with the above-mentioned Search for Tomorrow means that it should be a pretty simple matter to find the black mana needed for anything in the deck.

 

Remember that just because you can split the lands in your deck evenly does not mean that you should split them evenly.

 

What's In?

 

Now that the mana base has been examined, let's take a look at something way more interesting – rares.  One of the first things I do with any limited deck when building it (at least online, where such a thing takes only a moment) is to sort out the rares.  If you have something truly amazing, that's probably where it is after all.  It's a good place to start.  Mike ended up with the following rares that worked their way into his main deck:

 

Stonebrow

Spectral Force

Wurmcalling

Gauntlet of Power

 

With the possible exception of the Spectral Force, this is not a particularly bombtastic set of rares.  What it is is solid and dependable.  Stonebrow and Spectral Force are both cheap to cast (especially with multiple mana acceleration cards) and hugely powerful.  They both die fairly easily to dark banishing type removal spells, but those are the breaks.  The other two cards are sometimes fantastic and sometimes pretty lame.  But together – extraordinary.  It would wager to say that without Wurmcalling in the deck, the Gauntlet of Power might not have been played here.  However, with the potential for giant wurms, both cards shine here.  Ordinarily, one X-spell isn't enough reason to play a mana accelerator like Gauntlet of Poewr.  Especially when your colors are two of the most popular – green and black.  However, Wurmcalling is a flashback X-spell, a rare beast indeed.  And assuming that the color of choice for your Gauntlet is going to be green, it makes the wurms themselves bigger as well. 

 

Even with the potential for giant wurms, this deck is not designed to win on the back of its rares.  It's designed to take advantage of a strong selection of creatures and use pinpoint removal to force through the threats.  It doesn't have a lot of removal or a lot of combat tricks.  But it does have staying power.  Here's a few of the cards in the deck that make my list of important contributions to the overall package:

 

Darkheart Sliver – This is a fine card.  It's half of a Ravenous Baloth in a lot of ways, with a bit more life for the bargain.  For the most part, it's going to trade with something else and get you a little bit of life.  In a deck with a larger number of Slivers it can be very daunting.  This deck only has the two, but they fit in very nicely. 

 

Citanul Woodreaders – This example of green's new addiction to drawing cards is a huge addition to any deck.  Once upon a time there was a card called Teroh's Faithful.  It was a ╝ for 3W that gave you 4 life when it came into play.  It was a huge favorite of the slow plodding control decks of Odyssey block limited.  It held the ground for a long time and gave you some extra life.  It was also great when combined with any bounce or flickering effects.  Flickering won't be of much use on this card, but it's good all the same.  For a mere 6 mana you get a great blocker and two cards.  Or if you need an early defense, it works there too.  However, the times when this card is going to get played without its kicker are very few.  Two cards in the mid-game are simply too good to pass up for an early defense.  That's what Darkheart Slivers are for, after all.

 

Corpulent Corpse, Trespasser il-Vec, Yavimaya Dryad, Giant Dustwasp – Four evasion creatures is a high number for a green/black deck in most formats.  In Time Spiral draft, both colors have access to tools they don't normally have like green with flying and black with shadow.  While this deck can rely on the force of its huge tramplers to save the day, it's far more likely that the abundance of ways of holding the ground will allow time for a couple of your evasion creatures to swing through for the win.  It's best never to rely on only big creatures.  Every color – especially in Time Spiral and Planar Chaos – has access to some kind of evasion.  And more often than not, this will be what wins the game. 

 

What's Out?

 

As important as the considerations of what got put into the deck are the things that got left out.  There are some times when you're building a draft deck and there's so many playable cards that some need to sit on the sidelines.  Even before looking at the sideboard for this deck, I can tell it's not the case.  There are some cards that are not of terribly high quality being played, but let's look at what else could see some action in games two and three.

 

1x Seal of Primordium

1x Firefight Mage

1x Circle of Afflicition

1x Deadly Grub

1x Phantasmagorian

1x Rolling Horror

1x Vampiric Link

1x Shadow Sliver

1x Leviathan

1x Mana Skimmer

1x Pit Keeper

1x Skittering Monstrosity

1x Skulking Knight

1x Undead Warchief

1x Greater Gargadon

1x Undying Rage

1x Savage Thallid

1x Scarwood Treefolk

3x Sprout

1x Unyaro Bees

 

There's some surprisingly big cards in there.  Rolling Horror, and Unyaro Bees both come to mind.  In addition there's a bit more evasion and some interesting choices like Undead Warchief.  Obviously the latter wasn't added due to an overall lack of zombies.  The Bees and the Mana Skimmer are both somewhat expensive evasion options, but I could see them coming in against opponents with a demonstrated lack of evasion.  The Rolling Horror might look impressive, but I assure you that it isn't.  It's what can be called a “Win-More” card.  It's very strong when you're already on your way to winning the game, but not very strong when you're in a losing position. 

 

Otherwise, the sideboard is a collection of cards which are fair at best.  There are no glaring mistakes, as one would expect from a deck that won a Pro Tour.  I have to say though that if this were my deck I would not have been particularly pleased with the result.  It's competent but it is lacking in any true surprises.  It falls to pieces next to a concentrated control strategy and the evasion creatures are few and somewhat fragile. 

 

The difference with this deck is therefore luck and skill in piloting.  Some decks will carry you on their back, and some need to be carried.  This is one of the latter.  It's a deck that you can look at and be happy that it won a Pro Tour.  It's not a deck that is so full of powerful rares that it would be hard for it to lose.  It took skill to get it to where it ended up.  But most importantly, it serves as an example that the decks which are played at the highest levels are the same decks that are played down below.  You might be playing around a kitchen table, but you're using the same cards that the people pulling down $40,000 paychecks are using.  And that's encouraging to everyone in the kitchen. 

 

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