It’s very exciting to draft a new set for the first time. Just two days after prerelease weekend, tonight is the first time for most of us to draft Hour of Devastation. A couple of dudes admit that they have already drafted on Magic Online. I’m glad that Magic Online is committed to releasing sets online the same time that they appear in paper form.
After a weekend of prerelease sealed deck events, I’m ready to draft. I told my son that I want to draft a mill deck. Not based on the common creature Seer of the Last Tomorrow but instead on the uncommon Desert, Ipnu Rivulet. The key would be to get a hold of two copies of Ipnu Rivulet and then a whole lot of other Desert lands. You tap and activate Ipnu Rivulet and spend 1U and sacrifice any Desert you control to mill the top four cards of your opponent’s library into his graveyard. There are a few other cards, like Seer of the Last Tomorrow and even the cycling blue common Compelling Argument from Amonkhet. You would need to play some defensive creatures and some other stall cards, but I believe it’s a viable draft deck in this new draft format. It’s a bad sign that my son, Lawson, hates the idea. He normally jumps at the chance to use an alternate win condition in booster draft.
Tonight ten players to show up. Yes, eight is the perfect number for draft, but we would never ask people to sit out after going to the trouble of driving all the way over here. If we had twelve we would split into two three-versus-three team draft pods. With any number between seven and eleven, we simply randomly seat everyone around the table and draft. With ten players tonight, we play four rounds of Swiss rounds cutting down to the top four. Those four players play one semifinal round and then the two finalists split up the prize cards any way they choose. There’s no rare-drafting in the Guildhall, we play for the rares, mythics, foils and even the ultra-rare invocations if any show up.
Before the draft starts I tell Lawson, “After my first pick, if I’m ‘doing it’ you’ll know because I’ll announce that I’m DOING IT!” He says, “please don’t.” When I open my pack I see Ambuscade, my favorite common in the set, and all I can think of is the aggressive green/white sealed deck that I went 3-0 with on Sunday that had two Ambuscades and two Open Fires. I announce to the table, but mostly to Lawson, “I’m NOT ‘doing it.’”
Here are the winning decks from tonight’s draft followed by a little bit of analysis for each.
Lawson Zandi – Red/Blue Spells
Lawson has the most finals appearances at Guildmage drafts this year, but he’s been on a pretty bad streak the past month or so. After a disappointing weekend of prerelease decks that just didn’t work out, Lawson jumps all over the red and blue spells for his first Hour of Devastation booster draft. He first picked Spellweaver Eternal, seeing nothing great in his first pack. His second pick more or less decided his draft, it was Magmaroth. Lawson says that after he took Riddleform with his third pick, he knew what he wanted to do with the deck. He didn’t see any Open Fires in the HoD packs nor any Magma Sprays in the Amonkhet pack, but he made the best of things. He positively filled up his two and three slots with ten spells that cost two and four that cost three. In pack two he picked Inferno Jet and passed Nicol Bolas. In pack three he took Vizier of Many Faces with his first pick and got Enigma Drake third. This deck hits hard enough with the cheap early-game creatures that his few four and five-drop creatures truly function as finishers.
This deck looks innocent enough, but Lawson gets the most out of his prowess creatures even with “only” ten non-creature spells. Bounce is the reason. It’s terrifying when Lawson plays Nimble-Blade Khenra or Riddleform on turn two followed by Thorned Moloch on turn three followed by one or more non-creature spells on turn four. The bounce spells are the most devastating in any scenario where Lawson is dealing more damage sooner than his opponent. This is the situation in most games with this deck, actually. Lawson likes the stats of Riddleform for a two-drop that functions both as a cheap but powerful flyer and also as a scrying device later in games. Games move fast with this deck and about the time you play out your hand you have Riddleform to improve your future draws. This deck doesn’t hit you fast like a deck with one-drops would, but it has a lot of very explosive lines of play on turns three, four and five. This deck can lower the opponent’s life points in big chunks. Unsummon, Lawson’s common MVP, is better in this draft format than it has been in many years. Along with two copies of Unsummon, Lawson also makes things uncomfortable for his opponent with Winds of Rebuke and Decision Paralysis. Decision Paralysis on turn five can make games unwinnable for opponents when Lawson has played a creature on turns two, three and four.
By the way, Lawson played forty-one cards and only sixteen land. That’s a mistake, and it could have cost him. If you’re the sort of person that hates in when you get mana screwed, you shouldn’t be hurting your own cause by playing more than forty cards.
Jeff Zandi – GB Five Color Ramp
I can assure you that ramping to seven and eight-casting-cost spells was not my intention at the beginning of this draft. I found the best common in Hour of Devastation staring at me in my first pack, Ambuscade. It was literally the bottom card in the pack, the one facing me when I unwrapped my pack. It’s that thing when you see the card you are almost certain to take first, but feel like you should, you know, probably take a look at the other cards in the pack just to be fair. I wish I could remember the rest of the pack, but Ambuscade was a lot better starting point than any of the others. The color I would most like to pair with green is red. I’m probably biased because of my fun experience and success in sealed deck with a green/red deck that had a pair of Ambuscade and a pair of Open Fire. In this format, green is simply a great place to start, whether you are planning on going very fast and aggressive or slow with a ramp deck that can access a lot of other colors.
I make a habit of capturing my pick order for booster drafts. Here is the order in which I drafted my cards with the thoughts I was having during the draft:
Pack One – Hour of Devastation
Harrier Naga – solid and playable, this pick keeps my second color choice wide open
Frilled Sandwalla – a high pick for this card, no red cards seem to be coming this way
Obelisk Spider – happy to go into black for this card, very efficient and troublesome
Wretched Camel – more of a curve card, doesn’t automatically make me want Deserts
Marauding Bonelasher – good card, strictly for Zombie decks
Hour of Promise – this card fixes and accelerates mana, makes you want Deserts in your deck
Appeal/Authority – this is the second Overrun in this format that hasn’t gotten attention yet
Ifnir Deadlands – these uncommon Deserts are all good and help you add a spell to your deck
Carrion Screecher – one-toughness is bad but outweighed by being a three-powered flyer
Scrounger of Souls – very worthwhile five-casting-cost common
Lurching Rotbeast – better in an aggro deck
Hazoret’s Undying Fury – there are at least two of these floating around the table
Pack Two – Hour of Devastation
Dreamstealer – another eternalize creature you would rather activate from the graveyard
Desert of the Glorified – once you know what Deserts you want, you should prioritize them
Harrier Naga – unexcited but obviously in the deck
Obelisk Spider – it’s great to have two of these
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh – after a visible double-take, I start to think about how to play it
Survivors’ Encampment – every pick is now in consideration of playing Nicol Bolas
Chandra’s Defeat – I hope I remember that this is in my sideboard
Oasis Ritualist – this is just about as high as you want to have to take this card
Rampaging Hippo – can win games, can be cycled, this one always makes the cut
Desert of the Indomitable – four Deserts so far!
Beneath the Sands – another good ramp spell, nice that you can cycle it
Oasis Ritualist – an outstanding thirteenth pick
Desert of the Indomitable – a really outstanding fourteenth pick
Pack Three – Amonkhet
Cursed Minotaur – still evasive even without Zombie friends
Horror of the Broken Lands – easy to include 4/4
Defiant Greatmaw – black/green has fewer -1/-1 counter tricks than in triple-Amonkhet draft
Final Reward – solid removal piece
Supernatural Stamina – good on offense or defense
Sandwurm Convergence – it’s official, we’re ramping to big spells
Painted Bluffs – a great color-fixing Desert
Pouncing Cheetah – just because this guy isn’t exciting doesn’t mean he can’t make the deck
Giant Spider – seems boring and cut-able with two Obelisk Spiders, we’ll see
Spidery Grasp – good on offense or defense, a very good combat trick
Grasping Dunes – another Desert if I need it
Benefaction of Rhonas – has let me down in the past
There are two big problems that face every ramp deck, and these problems are often more serious in forty-card decks than in sixty-card decks. The first problem is the most important. Will I be dead before I manage to play the cards for which I am going to all this trouble? That’s the most important question. The best answer, in a forty-card deck, is to make sure the deck has enough of a creature and spell curve that you can survive and even flourish in the game while you build the board that lets you take advantage of just one or two expensive spells. The second problem with ramp decks is that you will draw mana-ramping cards late in the game when you need to draw cards that actually affect the board positively. Our friends at research and development helped us with this important problem. Beneath the Sands is a run of the mill ramp card, but since it has cycling it isn’t a wasted pick nearly as often. This isn’t just a problem late in games. It’s possible to know that you don’t need this spell to find land as early as turn four. When that happens, ditch Beneath the Sands and move further through your deck. Hour of Promise is a beauty of a ramp spell. Generally speaking, a card like this takes your entire turn at a point in the game where it’s very risky to trade your turn simply to put a couple of lands into play. Hour of Promise, however, can find *any* two lands from your library and put them into play. Then, if you control three or more Deserts, Hour of Promise creates for you a pair of 2/2 black Zombie tokens. Even on a board empty of creatures, you can afford to tap out to go from five lands in play to seven as long as you get a pair of Zombies to block for you.
I played both copies of Oasis Ritualist. In fact, this card was my common MVP for the deck. This card is admittedly defensive, but it blocks just fine and allows you to fix colors and ramp towards a six-drop on turn five or even larger spells later on.
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh needs some explanation. Not an explanation in the sense of why I jumped through the hoops in order to play it, I assure you Nicol Bolas is a limited bomb in every sense of the word. It’s a bomb, but not the most obvious kind of bomb. The best kind of bomb is one that wins the game for you when it resolves. The next best kind of bomb is like Sandwurm Convergence, a card that produces a winning board state in short order and which doesn’t require much careful decision-making. As soon as you have eight mana you play Sandwurm Convergence, it’s as simple as that. Nicol Bolas, on the other hand, is a bomb that requires you to make good decisions after you play it. Your opponents don’t want to hear it – they are rolling their eyes the moment you play Nicol Bolas, acting like you’re the luckiest kid in the world for (a) having this card fall into your lap and (b) for being lucky enough to manage the crazy casting cost of 4UBR. Explaining how Nicol Bolas is hard to use is like a rich guy complaining about how hard it is to structure his million-dollar income so that he minimizes his tax implications. No one wants to hear it. In the best possible scenario, your opponent will be at seven or less life when you play Nicol Bolas. You subtract four loyalty counters and blast them in the face for the win. That’s what a true bomb can do for you. Most of the time, it isn’t that simple. If you are not in the lead of the game, and you often aren’t when you have been working towards a hard-to-play seven-drop like this one, you will need to subtract four loyalty counters in order to deal seven damage to a creature your opponent controls. That’s a bummer because now your bomb planeswalker is down to three loyalty counters. You may have just spent seven mana to remove one creature from the board. If you’re winning already, or very close to winning, you might want to add a single loyalty counter and have your opponent exile two cards from his hand. This move has next to no value unless you are removing the LAST one or two cards from their hand. The ability that you will use most with Nicol Bolas, however, is his first ability. You add two loyalty to Nicol Bolas and your opponent exiles cards from the top of his library until he exiles a nonland card. Until end of turn, you can cast that card without paying its mana cost. The most important thing that happens when you do this is you extend Nicol Bolas’s service career by adding loyalty counters to him. You are either eliminating a problem-solving spell from the top of your opponent’s library or else adding a troublesome creature to your side of the battlefield. The bottom line with Nicol Bolas is that none of the first three abilities of this card is in and of itself enough of an effect to justify this card’s huge cost. On the other hand, every turn that Nicol Bolas remains in play moves you dramatically closer to winning the game. It’s crazy that Nicol Bolas fell to me with my fifth pick in pack two. It’s equally crazy that Sandwurm Convergence fell to me with my sixth pick in pack three. Clearly, the table was preoccupied with more aggressive strategies.
Figuring out the mana base was the hardest part. Choosing how many Deserts to play was the easy part. The four Deserts that make black or green mana were always going to be in the deck. Painted Bluffs and Survivors’ Encampment are easy choices once you know you want to play a third or fourth color. It’s important to play seventeen lands in a deck like this. You could be try to talk yourself into sixteen lands since you are playing spells that sort of count as mana plays. However, unless one of these nonlands is an artifact that costs zero, one or possibly two mana, don’t even think about shrinking your total mana. Seventeen lands was great for this deck. After all, three of the lands have cycling. Technically, this deck plays all five colors. I included an Island and a Mountain so that Hour of Promise to get them in play if it meant that I could play Nicol Bolas on turn six. This is exactly how it went down a couple of times. What happened more often, however, is that by the time I was ready to play Hour of Promise I would have one or the other of the Island or Mountain in play, and maybe even one of the Oasis Ritualists. Hour of Promise always solved the long term mana problem, whether it was solving my colors or making sure I had three Deserts in play. Hour of Promise was great every time I played it. It’s so good I could see it in a deck that doesn’t need access to four or five colors but which simply wants to make Zombie tokens. I needed white mana in order to play Authority from the graveyard. I was more than happy to rely on Painted Bluffs, Survivors’ Encampment and the two Oasis Ritualists to solve this problem.
I didn’t know if this deck would work at first. Now, having played a bunch of games with it, I can tell you that the deck’s ramping mechanisms are just fine. The problems with this deck involve the choices I made for the creatures and spells apart from mana-ramping. Defiant Greatmaw was often all by itself, and that means it was often just a 2/3 creature with no way to get rid of its -1/-1 counters. Every once in a while it was worth killing a Wretched Camel in order to have a 4/5 creature and making my opponent discard a card. Appeal/Authority would be a very important card in most decks, but in mine it’s more or less wasted. I included it because I think it’s awesome, but it’s far from great in this deck. That being said, playing both halves of this card in the same turn can greatly change the game. This card is great a softening your opponent in the middle of a game. You each have three creatures, maybe your opponent has more creatures than you and has just attacked with a couple of them. You pump up your best guy with Appeal and then tap your opponent’s remaining creatures and give your team vigilance. Just like that, you can remove half or more of your opponent’s life points while keeping all your creatures untapped.
I beat Lawson in the Swiss rounds, though just barely. After the draft, when I captured his deck and mine (I always collect the winning decks for research) I asked him what he thought about his deck. Lawson always thinks the deck he just drafted is the best deck he ever drafted. I looked through his deck and found nothing to get too excited about. It’s a red/blue spells deck. I knew that this archetype was alive and well in Hour of Devastation, but was it anywhere as good as this type of deck could be in Amonkhet? It was one of those things where you just can’t appreciate a deck from just looking at it, you have to play games with it.
In one game, Lawson’s deck draws Vizier of Many Faces in the middle of the game when he has three Mountains and three Islands in play. Vizier is a great card, but there are not that many outstanding targets for it in my deck. In this case, Lawson decides to copy Enigma Drake. I respond with Vizier on the stack playing Final Reward exiling Enigma Drake. Lawson decides to have Vizier copy Firebrand Archer. Little bitty 2/1 Firebrand Archer. The thing is, I’m at four life and now each of Lawson’s noncreature spells trigger Firebrand Archer AND the copy of Firebrand Archer dealing two damage to me. Lawson’s next spell? Strategic Planning. Did he find a noncreature spell among the three cards that he looked at with Strategic Planning. Yes. Yes, he did.
The short story regarding this matchup is that Lawson’s deck is simply too speedy for my deck to keep up with. This description is not really adequate, however. Lawson’s deck does its damage in chunks. Prowess creatures are just not that valuable unless your deck is full of spells. Lawson’s deck makes the prowess creatures pay off often enough to cause his opponent a lot of problems. It’s very painful when he has both copies of Riddleform in play and then triggers them both with a bounce spell that moves a would-be blocker out of the way just in time for Lawson to attack with two 3/3s in the air. The finishing moves in this deck come from a lot of different directions. The cleanest of these is Inferno Jet. Six to the face, game over.
I played about a dozen games between Lawson’s deck and my own, and his deck wins almost two-thirds of the time. It’s probably even more dangerous in his hands than in my own. Even though I love how well my deck worked out, how powerful it could be, the advantage in this matchup goes to the Lawdog!
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. Lawson got off to an impressive lead in the first quarter of the year but has had more trouble reaching the winner’s circle over the past two months. Amonkhet drafts were a little unlucky for him.
9 Lawson Zandi
8 Brian Heine
7 Maitland Griffith
5 Scot Martin
5 Jeff Zandi
3 Mark Hendrickson
3 Tuan Doan
3 Michael Ewing
1 Jon Toone
1 Francisco Jottar
1 Eric Jones
1 Mike Ferri
1 Brandon Robicheaux
1 Chris Weng
1 Patrick Lynch
Texas Guildmage meeting #1012, Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Roll Call (in order of arrival)
Jeff Zandi, Guildmage #7.
Lawson Zandi, Guildmage #39, 3rd meeting in a row, 395th lifetime.
Chris Weng, guest, 1st meeting in a row, 16th lifetime.
Jett Pinckard, guest, 1st meeting in a row, 19th lifetime.
Patrick Lynch, Guildmage #40, 1st meeting in a row, 160th lifetime.
Maitland Griffith, guest, 1st meeting in a row, 55th lifetime.
Brian Heine, Guildmage #35, 5th meeting in a row, 171st lifetime.
Jon Toone, Guildmage #28, 1st meeting in a row, 254th lifetime.
Matt Jackson, guest, 5th meeting in a row, 5th lifetime.
Ira Wile, guest, 1st meeting in a row, 31st lifetime.
Leslee Becker, guest, 1st meeting in a row, 2nd lifetime.
Meeting ran from 6:15 pm to 11:48 pm
Here’s the play-by-play of a match played between the decks drafted by Jeff Zandi, GB Five Color, and Lawson Zandi, RU Spells.
T1 Zanman keeps three Forests, Swamp, Survivors’ Encampment, Dreamstealer and Hour of Promise. Plays Swamp.
T1 Lawson keeps three Islands, Enigma Drake, Strategic Planning, Unsummon and Riddleform. Draws Mountain, plays Island.
T2 Zanman draws Swamp, plays Forest.
T2 Lawson draws and plays Mountain, plays Riddleform.
T3 Zanman draws Harrier Naga, plays Survivors’ Encampment, plays Dreamstealer.
T3 Lawson draws Mountain, plays Island, plays Strategic Planning looking at the top three cards of his library putting Unsummon in his hand and putting Labyrinth Guardian and Nimble-Blade Khenra into his graveyard, Riddleform triggers, attacks with Riddleform (17-20).
T4 Zanman draws Cursed Minotaur, attacks with Dreamstealer, Lawson plays Unsummon targeting Dreamstealer, Zanman plays Forest, plays Dreamstealer.
T4 Lawson draws Thorned Moloch, plays Mountain, plays Unsummon targeting Dreamstealer, Riddleform triggers, attacks with Riddleform (14-20), plays Thorned Moloch.
T5 Zanman draws Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh, plays Hour of Promise searching his library and putting Painted Bluffs and Ifner Deadlands onto the battlefield tapped and creating a pair of 2/2 black Zombie creature tokens.
T5 Lawson draws and plays Spellweaver Eternal, plays Island, plays Enigma Drake.
T6 Zanman draws Defiant Greatmaw, plays Forest, taps Zombie token to activate Survivors’ Encampment, plays Nicol Bolas, God Pharaoh, activates first ability of Nicol Bolas adding two loyalty counters to it, Lawson exiles Aerial Guide from the top of his deck, Zanman plays Aerial Guide from exile.
T6 Lawson draws Manticore Eternal, attacks Nicol Bolas with Enigma Drake, Aerial Guide blocks, Lawson plays Manticore Eternal.
T7 Zanman draws Sandwurm Convergence, adds two counters to Nicol Bolas, Lawson exiles Inferno Jet from the top of his library, Zanman plays Inferno Jet from the top of Lawson’s library without paying its mana cost targeting Lawson (14-14), plays Sandwurm Convergence, at the beginning of his end step Convergence triggers and creates a 5/5 green Wurm creature token.
T7 Lawson draws and plays Firebrand Archer, plays Mountain., attacks Nicol Bolas with Manticore Eternal blocked by Wurm token, Eternal triggers (11-14).
T8 Zanman draws Island, adds two counters to Nicol Bolas, Lawson exiles Magmaroth from the top of his library, Zanman plays Magmaroth from exile without paying its mana cost, plays Island, plays Dreamstealer, plays Cursed Minotaur, at end of turn creates another Wurm token, Lawson activates Riddleform scrying and putting Mountain on the bottom of his library.
T8 Lawson draws and plays Island.
T9 Magmaroth triggers and gets a -1/-1 counter, Zanman draws and plays Swamp, removes twelve loyalty counters from Nicol Bolas exiling all nonland permanents controlled by Lawson, attacks with two Zombie tokens and a Wurm token and Magmaroth and Dreamstealer and Cursed Minotaur (11- -3).
ZANMAN WINS GAME ONE ON TURN 9, LEADS MATCH 1-0
T1 Lawson keeps two Islands, Mountain, Earthshaker Khenra, Manticore Eternal, Enigma Drake and Winds of Rebuke. Plays Island.
T1 Zanman keeps two Forests, Swamp, Painted Bluffs, Survivors’ Encampment, Sandwurm Convergence and Hour of Promise. Draws Obelisk Spider, plays Swamp.
T2 Lawson draws Vizier of Many Faces, plays Mountain, plays Earthshaker Khenra, attacks with Khenra (18-20).
T2 Zanman draws Beneath the Sands, plays Forest.
T3 Lawson draws and plays Island, attacks with Khenra (16-20), plays Enigma Drake.
T3 Zanman draws Cursed Minotaur, plays Survivors’ Encampment, plays Obelisk Spider.
T4 Lawson draws and plays Island, plays Nimble-Blade Khenra, plays Winds of Rebuke returning Obelisk Spider to Zanman’s hand, attacks with Earthshaker Khenra and Enigma Drake (13-20).
T4 Zanman draws Desert of the Glorified, plays Painted Bluffs, plays Obelisk Spider.
T5 Lawson draws and plays Island, plays Vizier of Many Faces copying Enigma Drake.
T5 Zanman draws Obelisk Spider, plays Forest, plays Hour of Promise searching his library putting Island and Ifnir Deadlands onto the battlefield tapped and creating two 2/2 black Zombie creature tokens.
T6 Lawson draws and plays Khenra Scrapper.
T6 Zanman draws Wretched Camel, plays Obelisk Spider, plays Beneath the Sands searching his library putting a Mountain onto the battlefield tapped.
T7 Lawson draws and plays Island.
T7 Zanman draws Desert of the Indomitable, plays Sandwurm Convergence, at the beginning of the end step Convergence triggers creating a 5/5 green Wurm creature token.
T8 Lawson draws and plays Magmaroth.
T8 Zanman draws and plays Harrier Naga, plays Wretched Camel, at end of turn Convergence triggers and makes another Wurm token.
T9 Magmaroth triggers and gets a -1/-1 counter, Lawson draws and plays Mountain, plays Manticore Eternal, at end of turn Zanman cycles Desert of the Indomitable drawing Swamp.
T9 Zanman draws and plays Dreamstealer, plays Swamp, attacks with two Wurm tokens, Wurm token blocked by Magmaroth and Nimble-Blade Khenra, Zanman chooses to damage Magmaroth first (13-15), plays Cursed Minotaur, at end of turn Convergence triggers and creates another Wurm token.
T10 Lawson draws and plays Riddleform, attacks with Manticore Eternal blocked by Wurm token, Eternal triggers (10-15), at end of turn Zanman cycles Desert of the Glorified drawing Ambuscade.
T10 Zanman draws and plays Forest, attacks with two Wurm tokens, Wurm token blocked by Earthshaker Khenra and Nimble-Blade Khenra and Khenra Scrapper, Zanman plays Ambuscade targeting an unblocked Wurm token and Khenra Scrapper, Zanman chooses to damage Nimble-Blade Khenra first (10-4), at end of turn Convergence triggers creating another Wurm token, Lawson activates Riddleform scrying and putting Frontline Devastator on the bottom of his library, Lawson activates Riddleform scrying and putting Island on the bottom of his library.
T11 Lawson draws Labyrinth Guardian, activates the eternalize ability of Earthshaker Khenra exiling it from his graveyard creating a 4/4 black Zombie token version of Earthshaker Khenra.
T11 Zanman draws Spidery Grasp, attacks with Dreamstealer and two Zombie tokens and Harrier Naga and Wretched Camel and Cursed Minotaur and three Wurm tokens, Enigma Drake blocks Wurm token, Vizier of Mana Faces blocks a Wurm token, Earthshaker Khenra token blocks a Wurm token (10- -9).
ZANMAN WINS GAME TWO ON TURN 11, WINS MATCH 2-0
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