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Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events. Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.


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The Southwestern Paladin

Putting It All Together -- Drafting the Kamigawa Block
by Jeff Zandi
June 10th, 2005

Now that Saviors of Kamigawa has been available for a couple of weeks, it's time to examine Kamigawa block booster draft strategy more closely. If you are one of those guys that only play constructed formats, this article may not be for you, so feel free to keep practicing for Regionals. I'll have some tasty things to say about preparation for Regionals next week. If, however, you're like me and you LOVE limited formats, then get excited about Champions/Betrayers/Saviors booster draft, I think the format is very skillful and well-balanced.

The first time I drafted with all three sets together, I felt like I didn't know the cards of Saviors anywhere NEAR well enough to make good decisions.
While it's all well and good to try to get to know Saviors a little bit before you start drafting Champions/Betrayers/Saviors, don't wait too long to get your feet wet in a CBS draft. You simply cannot learn enough about the value of the cards in a new set until you play with them in different formats. Most importantly of all, your Saviors draft choices are going to be guided by the thirty card selections you will have already made from the Champions and Betrayers packs. In CBS draft, by the time you crack open your Saviors booster pack, you should have a very good idea of what your deck is and what you need from the third pack.

The big story about CBS draft is that the complex nature of the new set has not significantly slowed down Kamigawa draft decks. Some players thought that between Savior's "hand size matters" theme and the overall complexity of the set, the best decks produced in CBS drafts would be slower. So slow, thought some players, that it would become appropriate to play second in booster draft matches. I do not believe that this theory is holding true.
The best player in Texas, young Mr. Brent Kaskel, believes that aggressive is still the way to go in CBS draft. Brent is famous for focusing on fast, cheap to cast cards to such a degree that he will pick a fast card like Glacial Ray over extremely powerful rares that cost more than five mana.
Most weeks, you would be hard pressed to find more than one or two cards in Brent's whole deck that cost more than three mana.

The rest of this story is focused on one general color combination that I like to draft in the new CBS draft format. Even if you draft other colors, however, I think there are lessons in this story worth learning that apply to Champions/Betrayers/Saviors booster draft in general.


People who know me (they're already nodding their heads) can attest that I really like to draft red from year to year, and in the current CBS format, like a month ago in the CCB draft format, I like to draft red/green. I think this draft strategy would better be identified as green/red because the emphasis of your deck is more often going to be on your green cards. Red was a popular color in CCB drafts and was already NOT particularly deep. In CBS draft, red is still popular, but even less deep than in the past. Green is extremely deep, but not nearly as popularly drafted as red.

In my most recent green/red draft, I drafted Honden of Infinite Rage as my first pick. It's not exactly news to anybody that this is a great first pick, but I think this card is even more important in CBS draft. I was personally very sad the first time I drafted CCB instead of Champions x3. I got that same feeling the first time I drafted CBS. This is simply because I got used to opening MORE packs of Champions and I got used to being able to draft multiples of the good red commons in Champions. For example, it will be extremely rare to get two Glacial Rays in a deck anymore, not with only one Champions pack being opened by each player. Glacial Ray remains a higher pick than Honden for the red player, but Honden has become just about the best common or uncommon red card you can choose first from your Champions pack. In the competitive market for red cards in the first pack of CBS draft, Honden of Infinite Rage becomes more important because it makes less popular but available cards like Crushing Pain more playable.

Green common cards that were popular for green/red in CCB are still the most desirable for CBS, but as in the case of all quality Champions cards, must be selected earlier in drafts. This is particularly true with utility cards like Kodama's Reach, which you USED to be able to draft with a fifth or sixth pick or even lower in EITHER of the first or second packs. If you see Kodama's Reach in a CBS draft, and you're interested in green, you have to take it a lot sooner. In the Betrayers packs, the value of hate cards for opponent's flyers has increased, so draft Matsu-Tribe Sniper and Traproot Kami EARLY AND OFTEN. I had been avoiding drafting Traproot Kami all this time, because when I play green, I want to play aggressively and I don't want any walls (sorry.creatures with the Defender ability) in my deck when I'm trying to be aggressive. Trent Boneau is one of the top players in Texas and admittedly prefers control strategies in both his limited decks as well as in his constructed efforts. Trent has educated me over the past month in the tremendous value of Traproot Kami. Okay, it can't attack, but let's focus on the positives: it only costs one mana to cast, it blocks flyers, it's a Spirit and best of all, its toughness is equal to the number of Forests in play (including your opponents' Forests!). Flying creatures are the natural enemy of the green deck, Traproot Kami helps solve that problem.

Among the other cards you need from Betrayers for your green/red CBS draft deck, there is no more important uncommon than Budoka Pupil. It is SO easy (especially with cheap Spirits in your deck like Traproot Kami) for the green player to play the Pupil on turn three and then play two cheap Spirit creatures on turn four to flip your Budoka Pupil into the literally game-breaking Ichiga, Who Topples Oaks. Once again, this card was ALREADY very popular in CCB draft, but I feel this card is even better in the CBS draft format. Other less popular cards from Betrayers that I think are now more valuable for your deck include Roar of Jukai, Splinter and Uproot. Roar of Jukai is now a little better for the aggressive green deck designs as CBS decks include (and therefore attack with) more creatures and fewer tricks than in the past. Uproot and Splinter are sideboard cards, but important ones you should think about in the later picks of the Betrayers round of the draft. Artifacts are less prevalent in CBS draft than in CCB or CCC, but when your opponent plays Umezawa's Jitte or some other powerful artifact, you will be glad you have Splinter in your sideboard. Uproot is an important defense against any Genju land enchantments that your opponent might be playing.

When you break open your Saviors pack, the green/red drafter is going to be quite pleased with the choices available to him.

Ghost-Lit Raider is as good as it gets in Saviors of Kamigawa in red. This card is slightly overbalanced in favor of power (being able to deal two points of damage repeatedly) versus weakness (this card has a toughness of one and cost three mana to activate). The fact that this card is a three casting cost Spirit creature puts this card way over the top of the chart, it's easy to cast, even as a third color splash, and as a three mana cost Spirit, it is an easy choice as the target of one of your other Spirit's Soulshift ability. From the best red non-rare in the set, I want to take you straight to a six casting cost common that many people might overlook. Ronin Cavekeeper is NOT a first pick, but he's a creature that is easy to pick up late in the Saviors round at the end of the draft. This creature is MUCH better than any number of five casting cost 3/3 creatures that often end up in decks as a fill-in creature. In the CBS format, you can play a six casting cost creature about as easily as you can play a five casting cost creature. Chances are, Ronin Cavekeeper WON'T be a part of your best green/red decks, but he can be a much stronger main deck choice than cards like Kumano's Pupils or even the Mountainwalking Sokenzan Bruiser.

One uncommon that is disappointing me a little is Burning-Eye Zubera. This
3/3 Zubera Spirit costs 2RR and has the ability to deal three damage to a creature or player if it goes to the graveyard on the same turn that it received at least FOUR points of damage. This card can be very good.
Basically, it can block and bring down a 6/6 attacker. Your smarter opponents, however, are not going to attack into your Burning-Eye Zubera in ways that make your Zubera a two for one in your favor very often. An even worse thing that can happen is when you starting using your creature resources differently because you actually WANT your Zubera to take at least four damage so that you can take advantage of its "death" ability. In the end, this card is really just a Hill Giant with a more difficult to play casting cost.

There are two cards to look out for in red that deal damage to a target equal to the number of cards in your hand. Most good players are able to disregard Gaze of Adamaro easily enough, this card can only target players.
Spiraling Embers targets creatures but is a Sorcery and has been disappointing at times. Obviously, this card is no Torrent of Stone, but in a draft format with fewer good red removal cards, you will wish you could have almost ANY OTHER red removal card other than Spiraling Embers. Red is not the color you want to play when it comes to having a lot of cards in hand.

If you want a GREAT common for the green/red deck that DOES help you have a lot of cards in your hand, look no further than Elder Pine of Jukai. I questioned the quality of this card before I played it because I didn't want to pay three mana for a 2/1 creature. I was wrong. This card is phenomenal.
Every time you play a Spirit or Arcane card, Elder Pine causes you to reveal the top three cards of your library, putting any land cards revealed into your hand while returning any non-land cards revealed to the bottom of your library in the order you desire. On top of all of this, Elder Pine of Jukai is a Spirit creature with Soulshift 2. Sometimes your opponent will get all excited when the ability triggers and you reveal non-land cards that you might wish were going into your hand soon instead of traveling to the bottom of your library. If this happens and your opponent gets all happy about the cards that you are NOT about to draw, they are simply forgetting the lessons we learned in Magic a LONG time ago with Millstone. You see, the cards that you don't draw, that end up in the graveyard from Millstone or on the bottom of your deck with Elder Pine of Jukai, these are simply cards that you don't end up drawing (at least right now) and you can't worry about what COULD have happened if Elder Pine had not been triggered. When your Elder triggers, the Glacial Ray (example) that ends up on the bottom of your deck is purely a hypothetical draw that you simply won't be getting for a while, the two land cards that were revealed with the Glacial Ray and that are going directly into your hand, these free cards are ACTUAL card advantage.
Card advantage is very powerful, indeed. If you get Elder Pine of Jukai into play on turn three, you can quickly solve your mana problems for the rest of the game with the next Spirit or Arcane card you play.


Get yourself one or two Elder Pine of Jukai in your green deck, then draft as many as three or even four Inner Calm, Outer Strength. This Arcane instant for 2G gives target creature +X/+X where X is the number of cards in your hand. If you play this card with Elder Pine of Jukai in play, the Elder triggers and resolves BEFORE Inner Calm, Outer Strength looks at the number of cards in your hand. In one turn, I attacked with three creatures with six mana untapped and two Inner Calm in my hand. Two of my creatures were blocked and only one creature was unblocked. My Gnarled Mass jumped up from
3/3 to 7/7 after my first Inner Calm resolved, and after my second Inner Calm resolved, I was smashing my opponent with a 12/12 Gnarled Mass.

In the Saviors pack, the green/red drafter is going to find PLENTY of cards that will be strong enough to be a part of your draft deck's 'starting lineup'. The depth, especially the depth in green, makes green/red a good choice for CBS draft.

Of course, I would love to know what you think!

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online


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