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Journal of the Texas Guildmages – Eldritch Moon Booster Draft

Written by Jeff Zandi on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited

Journal of the Texas Guildmages – Eldritch Moon Booster Draft

Jeff Zandi

Jeff Zandi is a level 2 judge and an eight-time veteran of the Pro Tour. He has written continuously about Magic for over eighteen years. His team, the Texas Guildmages, have the longest running regular game in history, meeting at his home every Tuesday night since 1996.

In a week we’ll be drafting a brand new set and everyone on the team is excited it. In the meantime, we’ve been very satisfied with Eldritch Moon booster drafts. A week ago we had a great turn out with twelve players. The problem is, we didn’t manage to play a Swiss draft. With twelve players we split into to six man team drafts and then, well, everyone went home. Sometimes we get about eight out of an initial attendance of twelve to stick around for a Swiss draft after the much faster paced team drafts are over. This week we had fewer players, just seven, but enough for a good Swiss draft. With seven, eight or nine players, we play three rounds of Swiss and then cut to a top four. The two finalists then split up all the rares, mythics and foils from the draft. No rare drafting at a Texas Guildmages meeting!

Eldritch Moon draft felt good right off the bat. It was not an easy format to get ahold of at first, but it felt very skillful. Sometimes a player might tend to call a format skillful when they have a lot of success with it. Funny how that happens. I had the opposite experience with Eldritch Moon draft. I didn’t reach the finals all season, until tonight. I, too, believe the format is very skillful, but mostly because of the way the format challenged and even befuddled me since July.

As the Eldritch Moon draft format matured, the winning decks moved from aggressive decks based on red cards to more midrange and even slower control decks based on blue cards. It took a while to grasp the power of emerge. Eldritch Moon teased us, at the beginning, with the idea of extending madness and delirium tricks. More recently, the best decks have been those that could use emerge cards to take control of the board late in game with very large and very powerful monsters. Before tonight’s draft, there had been eight winning Eldritch Moon draft decks from our weekly practices. Three of these were blue and green. No two of the other five winning decks played the same colors, there was one each red/black, red/green, red/blue, green/black and blue/white.

These are the lessons my team learned from two months of Eldritch Moon draft. Those lessons went out the window this week. The two decks that survived the semifinals were both red and black. Admittedly, however, only one of those decks (mine) was attempting to win with madness cards and a truly aggressive pace of play. The other red/black deck, belonging to one of our most improved players, made the most of emerge while still taking advantage of the best removal spells in red and black.

Tonight’s Winning Decks

Tuan is one of the two or three players in our group who have improved the most over the past few years. For Tuan, the biggest recent gains have been in limited play, particularly in booster draft. Tonight Tuan started off red and never looked back. His first two picks were Conduit of Storms, one of Eldritch Moon’s two extremely efficient three-drop red creatures. Tuan’s third pick was Distended Mindbender. This put him into black. Red/black decks are famously filled with removal spells, and Tuan has a decent number of them. Fiery Temper is the sexiest option because it only costs three mana and because Tuan can even play it for its one red madness cost if he discards it to Tormenting Voice. The rest of his removal spells are more costly. Throttle, Reduce to Ashes and Alchemist’s Greeting each cost five mana. (Greeting has a madness cost of 1R in case Tuan can discard it to Tormenting Voice) Certain Death is his most (ahem) certain way to kill a creature but it costs six mana. I like that Tuan played a copy of Make Mischief. There are plenty of times in this format where dealing one damage, or one more damage, to a creature will kill it. Anytime this card kills a creature, even a 1/1 Spirit token AND gives you a 1/1 red Devil creature token that deals damage when it dies, you’ve done pretty well for yourself with this card. I have never played more than one copy of Make Mischief in a draft deck but I have found myself bringing one in from the board many times when I failed to include it in my main deck. The last non-creature spell in Tuan’s deck is also his common MVP, Borrowed Hostility. Red creatures notoriously want to attack but lack the toughness to survive. Red creatures are always hungry for first strike. Borrowed Hostility handles this task excellently while also giving you a way to pump a creature’s power at the same time.

One of the core wisdoms of Eldritch Moon draft has been that two-drop creatures, particularly the 2/1 or 2/2 variety, are almost useless. The reason is that you can’t reliably charge through your opponent in the late game with them in a format with so many large creatures in it. Tuan has three two-drop creatures but isn’t counting on them to win the day, just to help him stay alive until his deck gets closer to its fifth land, the point at which the deck really starts working well. These little guys are seat-fillers, a necessary evil to make sure something is happening on the board in the early turns.

The rest of Tuan’s creatures are rather solid plays. Haunted Dead is like a two-for-one and it can be replayed from the graveyard when you have extra cards in your hand you don’t mind discarding. Voldaren Duelist was better in the more aggressive environment of Shadows over Innistrad draft but he still has value in Eldritch Moon drafts. Mad Prophet’s value as a hasty Looter (or hasty 2/2 attacker) is universal. Then there’s Bloodhall Priest, a nice rare 4/4 for 2BR that’s hellbent on taking control of the board. As good as these creatures are, the wins actually come from still larger creatures. The two Conduit of Storms transform into large men, as does Gatstaf Arsonists and Vildin-Pack Outcast. Distended Mindbender arrives just in time to rip one or two important removal spells out of the opponent’s hand, then sticks around to help you win. This deck is a solid mid-range deck capable of hitting hard on the ground and of removing offending creatures from the board, even those that are fairly large.

I sort of knew better than to go after red and black. I have hurt myself so many times in this format by choosing the aggressive plan when it plainly isn’t the most likely way to win in this format. Still, with just a few Eldritch Moon drafts left, I couldn’t help myself. To help you understand how I arrived at this deck I’d like to share with you the order in which I picked all of these cards. I usually take a picture of my draft order after all the cards have been chosen from all three packs, just as a bit of documentation for me in case I decide to go back and study what happened.

Pack One – Eldritch Moon
Boon of Emrakul – I was ready to go black (and never go back) right away
Brazen Wolves – uh, oh, red’s best common creature… what if I could draft multiples?
Olivia’s Dragoon – awesome for madness, a Bear worth drafting
Brazen Wolves – it’s going down for real! I’m so locked in on red/black at this point
Borrowed Hostility – always makes the cut
Markov Crusader – could get cut depending on mana curve and number of Vampires
Geier Reach Sanitarium – good for madness, not automatically in the deck yet
Alchemist’s Greeting – hmm, needs a madness outlet. Okay, the Sanitarium is in for sure
Falkenrath Reaver – only makes the deck if you are in dire need of a chumpy creature
Graf Harvest – more of a control deck card, it could make the deck if things slow down
Stensia Banquet – not likely to be played
Succumb to Temptation – I expected I would play one of these at this point
Bold Impaler – I tried this card when the set first came out, but never again
Stensia Banquet

Pack Two – Eldritch Moon
Furyblade Vampire – too aggressive? I’ll have to find out
Assembled Alphas – maybe one or two late game bombs would be okay in my deck…
Haunted Dead – perfect for the deck, bridges the gap between aggro and midrange
Bedlam Reveler – another late game potential bomb
Succumb to Temptation – probably would never play two of these
Rise from the Grave – goes great in decks with removal, hits any graveyard
Shreds of Sanity – more for a control deck or a spells deck
Borrowed Hostility – not sure if I will play two copies but it is possible
Skirsdag Supplicant – useful three toughness body and a madness outlet
Shreds of Sanity
Furyblade Vampire
Lupine Prototype – looks so good, just can’t be played in limited at all
Waxing Moon
Bold Impaler

Pack Three – Shadows over Innistrad
Murderous Compulsion – good removal, even better with madness outlets
Malevolent Whispers – I like this more than most people, very good with madness outlets
Lightning Axe – a removal spell that is also a madness outlet
Tormenting Voice – much better in a madness deck than Succumb to Temptation
Throttle – a much maligned card for draft, I think it makes my deck easily
Inner Struggle – this one is also considered too slow for many, I’ll run it main
Uncaged Fury – almost impossible not to play this card, combat trick and win condition
Hulking Devil – better than average red monster
Vessel of Malignity – very playable in sealed deck, you don’t try this much in draft
Dual Shot – you run one main for the same reason you might run Make Mischief
Open the Armory
Pieces of the Puzzle
Ghostly Wings
Senseless Rage – I usually don’t play this one but I think it goes in this madness-enabled deck

I think it was to my deck’s advantage that I was so quickly committed to red/black. Bundling two copies of Brazen Wolves with Boon of Emrakul and Olivia’s Dragoon (my common MVP). The first thing I did when I finished drafting was to lay out the cards in three columns, pick by pick, so that I could snap a quick picture capturing the order in which I drafted all the cards. That process takes possibly two minutes. Then I scoop up the cards and start laying them out in the shape of a deck, a column for each casting cost, lowest to highest, left to right. In each column the top part of the column is for creatures and lower part of the column is for non-creature spells. Non-basic lands go over to the side, just to remind you that you are thinking about playing them.

Lately, I have been making my non-creature spell decisions, or at least taking the first cut, before deciding on how many creatures and which creatures. With this pile, it was clear to me that I was going to play quite a few spells, like ten or more, meaning that my deck would have somewhat fewer creatures. This is another illustration that aggro decks are kind of bad in Eldritch Moon. A truly aggressive deck would want a lot of creatures, the most reliable form of repeatable damage, filling a curve that probably stops at four. That’s not going to happen in this deck.

I want to play a lot of spells, including at least one spell that doesn’t do anything except move my deck along, Tormenting Voice. On the other hand, I want to play two spells that don’t do anything unless I have creatures in play. These two spells are Borrowed Hostility and Senseless Rage. You have to be careful. In the end I wound up with eleven creatures and twelve spells. I split my lands right down the middle between Mountains and Swamps in order to accommodate Geier Reach Sanitarium. The Sanitarium is too good for madness not to include. I used madness and madness-enabling as my guiding star when making the finals cuts for the deck.

I was not at all sure that I liked two copies of Furyblade Vampire but I kept them in because of their interaction with madness. When I played one on turn two, I always felt like I ought to be discarding a card to it on my next turn when attacking into an empty board. This was not usually the right play. That’s too bad, because it meant that I sometimes spent two mana on turn two in order to simply attack for one damage on turn three. Not impressive. After beating Lawson in the semifinals I told him that I sided out one of the Furyblade Vampires (for the second Borrowed Hostility as it turns out) and Lawson, who loves aggro red/black like nobody else, immediately declared that move a mistake. He says the Furyblade Vampires are too powerful, even though they give you awkward choices at times. After playing four matches with Furyblade Vampire, I have to say that it’s far from my favorite creature for a madness deck. I loved every opening hand with Olivia’s Dragoon, I was nervous every time I saw Furyblade in my opening hand.

In the games I won with this deck, my turn three Brazen Wolves were able to get in unblocked for the first damage of the game followed by a good removal play on turn four. The Wolves dealt a great deal of the early game damage in the games I won and they worked very well with Borrowed Hostility and Senseless Rage. There were, however, many games where the only reason I won was because I had powerful late game plays like Bedlam Reveler and, more often, Assembled Alphas. In the matches tonight, Malevolent Whispers wasn’t actually that good, although I still like it. Maybe I don’t need to take a card like this anywhere nearly as high as I took this one tonight. Rise from the Grave was better than average, I think people are taking this spell too late, although I recognize it works best in decks that can kill large creatures. If you don’t have good removal in your deck, Rise from the Grave is clearly not as good.

The bottom line with this deck is that as much madness synergy as I had, most of my creatures were outclassed by turn five of most games. It took the ability to play very aggressively on the earlier turns combined with good removal spells and a good late game plan including either my six-drop or my eight-drop to win games. If madness were going to still be good at this point, I think this deck would have been the proof. I knew it two weeks ago and I’m even more sure now, madness decks, particularly aggressive madness decks, are not the way to go in Eldritch Moon drafts. The fact that this deck did well tonight is a slight anomaly.

The Matchup

These two decks have a lot of cards in common but very different plans. My deck wants to deal most of its damage in the first five turns, Tuan’s deck does most of its work after turn five. Tuan has plenty of spells but his deck is much more creature-based than mine. Tuan has some madness synergy in his deck and it occasionally gives his games a boost. My deck is entirely based on playing spells for their madness cost. I have four madness spells and eight different cards that allow (or require) me to discard a card.

As it turns out, I swept the two games between me and Tuan’s decks that are detailed at the end of this article. I understand that the manner in which these two detailed battles played out stretches the credulity, for some readers, of my ability to dispassionately play out matches between two different decks. I won’t waste my time explaining why I really can play both sides with complete fairness. In short, Tuan’s deck gets shortchanged on mana in a surprisingly lengthy game one. In game two, my deck simply got the better of the situation with a turn two Furyblade Vampire (which I need to stop poor mouthing) and a series of good draws.

In twenty other games that I played between the two decks, the results were generally very different. In sixteen of those twenty games, Tuan’s deck prevails on turn ten or eleven after being behind for the first five turns. Tuan’s creatures are too big for my creatures by about turn five in most games. When I have Furyblade Vampire in play at the beginning of my combat step, it’s incredibly obvious when I have the goods and when I don’t. It would be so different if Furyblade Vampire’s ability was an activated ability that you could choose to use at any point of the game. I guess it would be too good of a creature if that were true. Instead, this Vampire triggers at the beginning of your attack step and you must then decide to throw away a card to give Furyblade Vampire +3/+0 until end of turn. In Magic, it’s generally bad to be forced to make decisions before your opponent.

Tuan’s deck also can straight run my deck out of cards in some games in which our two armies stare at each other without being able to do much damage. Both of us are very light on flying. I go through some extra cards with Bedlam Reveler and we both have Tormenting Voice. When games go long, I simply don’t have the horses in my corral to compete with Tuan’s larger threats. That puts my deck in the awkward position of having to “go for it” and risk a lot of cards in the early going. It works sometimes, better against some decks than others. When it does work, my deck has the ability to shorten games, a powerful ability that keeps your opponent off of their best cards and the mana necessary to play them.

Guildhall Draft Finalists Year to Date

Listed here are the number of times a player has reached the finals of one of our Swiss booster drafts.

9 Jeff Zandi
8 Mark Hendrickson
8 Scot Martin
7 Lawson Zandi
6 Tuan Doan
3 Matt Banks
3 Jon Toone
2 Aaron Tobey
2 Michael Ferri
2 Maitland Griffith
2 Patrick Lynch
2 Cesar Collazo
1 William Oats
1 Brian Heine
1 Blake Bombich
1 Matt Tuck
1 Stephen Marshall
1 Bassel Said
1 Cole Campbell
1 Ian Jasheway

Texas Guildmage meeting #970, Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Roll Call (in order of arrival)
Jeff Zandi, Guildmage #7.
Lawson Zandi, junior Guildmage, 10th meeting in a row, 355th lifetime.
Maitland Griffith, guest, 5th meeting in a row, 16th lifetime.
Cesar Collazo, guest, 3rd meeting in a row, 89th lifetime.
Catrina Reichelt, guest, 1st meeting in a row, 58th lifetime.
Blake Bombich, guest, 9th meeting in a row, 92nd lifetime.
Tuan Doan, guest, 10th meeting in a row, 98th lifetime.

Meeting ran from 6:31pm to 11:28pm

Here’s the play-by-play of a match played between the two finalists’ decks. No sideboards are used for this match and I played both sides of the match. Growing up an only child, I have a unique ability to play both sides of a game without favoritism or bias for either side. All I want to do is learn what happens when one deck battles the other.

T1 Tuan keeps Mountain, Swamp, Reduce to Ashes, Make Mischief, Bloodhall Priest, Haunted Dead and Borrowed Hostility. Plays Mountain.
T1 Zanman keeps Mountain, Swamp, Geier Reach Sanitarium, Throttle, Borrowed Hostility, Hulking Devil and Haunted Dead. Draws Alchemist’s Greeting, plays Mountain.
T2 Tuan draws Twins of Maurer Estate, plays Swamp.
T2 Zanman draws Senseless Rage, plays Swamp.
T3 Tuan draws Throttle.
T3 Zanman draws Uncaged Fury, plays Geier Reach Sanitarium.
T4 Tuan draws and plays Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice, at end of turn Zanman activates Geier Reach Sanitarium, Zanman draws Swamp and discards Throttle, Tuan draws Mountain and discards Make Mischief.
T4 Zanman draws Boon of Emrakul, plays Swamp, plays Hulking Devil.
T5 Tuan draws Vildin-Pack Outcast, plays Mountain.
T5 Zanman draws Furyblade Vampire, plays Boon of Emrakul enchanting Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice, attacks with Devil (15-20).
T6 Tuan draws and plays Falkenrath Reaver.
T6 Zanman draws Lightning Axe, attacks with Devil blocked by Reaver, Zanman plays Uncaged Fury targeting Devil.
T7 Tuan draws and plays Field Creeper.
T7 Zanman draws Markov Crusader, attacks with Devil blocked by Creeper, plays Furyblade Vampire.
T8 Tuan draws and plays Swamp, plays Haunted Dead putting a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying onto the battlefield.
T8 Zanman draws Tormenting Voice, declares attack, Furyblade Vampire triggers and Zanman chooses to discard Senseless Rage, plays Senseless Rage for its madness cost enchanting Furyblade Vampire, attacks with Vampire (9-20).
T9 Tuan draws Breakneck Rider.
T9 Zanman draws Brazen Wolves, declares attack, Vampire triggers and Zanman chooses to discard Haunted Dead, attacks with Vampire blocked by Haunted Dead, Tuan plays Borrowed Hostility paying three additional mana to target Haunted Dead twice, Zanman responds playing Lightning Axe discarding Tormenting Voice targeting Haunted Dead (3-20).
T10 Tuan draws and plays Mountain, plays Reduce to Ashes targeting and exiling Furyblade Vampire, attacks with Spirit token (3-19).
T10 Zanman draws and plays Mountain, plays Markov Crusader.
T11 Tuan draws Conduit of Storms, attacks with Spirit token (3-18), plays Throttle targeting Markov Crusader.
T11 Zanman draws and plays Furyblade Vampire, plays Brazen Wolves.
T12 Tuan draws and plays Mountain, plays Twins of Maurer Estate.
T12 Zanman draws Assembled Alphas, declares attack, Vampire triggers and Zanman chooses to discard Alchemist’s Greeting, Greeting triggers and Zanman chooses to play it for its madness cost targeting Twins of Maurer Estate, attacks with Vampire and Wolves, Wolves triggers, Spirit token blocks Wolves, Twins blocks Vampire (0-18).

T1 Tuan rejects an opening hand containing three Swamps and four red creatures. Tuan keeps a six card hand containing two Swamps, Hanweir Battlements, Haunted Dead, Conduit of Storms and Mad Prophet. Tuan scrys putting Ghoulcaller’s Apprentice on top of his library. Plays Swamp.
T1 Zanman keeps Mountain, Swamp, Alchemist’s Greeting, Haunted Dead, Hulking Devil, Senseless Rage and Inner Struggle. Draws Furyblade Vampire, plays Mountain.
T2 Tuan draws Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice, plays Swamp, plays Accomplice.
T2 Zanman draws Mountain, plays Swamp, plays Furyblade Vampire.
T3 Tuan draws and plays Swamp.
T3 Zanman draws Throttle, plays Mountain, declares attack, Vampire triggers and Zanman chooses to discard Senseless Rage, Senseless Rage triggers and Zanman chooses to play it for its madness cost enchanting Furyblade Vampire, attacks with Vampire (14-20).
T4 Tuan draws and plays Mountain, plays Haunted Dead putting a 1/1 white Spirit creature token with flying onto the battlefield.
T4 Zanman draws and plays Swamp, declares attack, Vampire triggers and Zanman chooses to discard Alchemist’s Greeting, Greeting triggers and Zanman chooses to play it for its madness cost targeting Haunted Dead, attacks with Vampire (8-20).
T5 Tuan draws and plays Swamp, plays Conduit of Storms.
T5 Zanman draws Borrowed Hostility, declares attack, Vampire triggers and Zanman chooses to discard Haunted Dead, attacks with Vampire blocked by Conduit of Storms and Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice, Zanman plays Borrowed Hostility paying three extra mana in order to target Furyblade Vampire twice (4-20).
T6 Tuan draws Mountain, plays Hanweir Battlements, plays Mad Prophet.
T6 Zanman draws Uncaged Fury, declares attack, Vampire triggers and Zanman chooses to discard Hulking Devil, attacks with Vampire blocked by Mad Prophet and Spirit token, Tuan activates Prophet discarding Mountain and drawing Field Creeper, Zanman plays Uncaged Fury targeting Furyblade Vampire (-7 -20).

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