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Guildmage Meeting 877: Khans Of Tarkir Booster Draft

By Zanman on 11/18/2014 Category: Forum>Magic: the Gathering>Articles>Limited Play
Journal of the Texas Guildmages, Meeting Number 877

Khans of Tarkir Booster Draft

I haven’t been more challenged by limited formats than I have with Khans of Tarkir sealed deck and booster draft. I thought the rest of the team felt the same, and with a sealed deck PTQ season going on I expected attendance to stay high all season. It has not. Last week there were only six of us. We played a pair of team drafts that I’ll document later in this journal entry. Tonight, things are looking up a little bit. We have the perfect number for draft, exactly eight players.

Welcome to the 877th weekly meeting of the Texas Guildmages. For eighteen years we’ve been meeting at my house just northwest of Dallas. Over time, the faces change but the desire to have fun and keep improving at the game we love continues.

The Finalists’ Decks from the Eight Man Draft

Mike Ferri
Forest x6
Island x5
Mountain x3
Mystic Monastery
Rugged Highlands
Thornwood Falls
Icefeather Aven x2
Disdainful Stroke
Temur Charger x2
Savage Punch
Highland Game
Force Away
Temur Charm
Crippling Chill
Arc Lightning
Mistfire Weaver
Longshot Squad x3
Incremental Growth
Sagu Archer x2
Snowhorn Rider
Witness of the Ages
Crater’s Claws

Mark Hendrickson
Swamp x7
Forest x6
Island x3
Thornwood Falls
Ruthless Ripper
Archers’ Parapet
Rakshasa Deathdealer
Icefeather Aven
Kin-Tree Invocation
Heir of the Wilds x2
Debilitating Injury x2
Sultai Banner
Crippling Chill x2
Bellowing Saddlebrute
Kheru Spellsnatcher
Rakshasa Vizier
Sultai Soothsayer
Krumar Bond-Kin x2
Murderous Cut
Death Frenzy
Woolly Loxodon
Icy Blast

Breaking Down the Finalists’ Decks from the Eight Man Draft

Here’s how we draft at the Guildhall. We seat the players randomly using regular playing cards numbered from ace to whatever number we are drafting with. For eight players, and occasionally seven, we play three rounds of Swiss. For ten to twelve players, the most we would ever draft with on a single table, we play four rounds of Swiss. For nine players we sometimes play three rounds instead of the mathematically correct four. After the Swiss rounds we cut to a top four with the best Swiss record playing the fourth place finisher and second and third playing each other. The two winners of the semi finals are free to split the rares, mythics and foils between themselves any way they wish. For the past couple of years they usually choose to game for the cards. They shuffle the prize cards face down on the table and spread them around randomly. Each finalist flips over a card. The person who flips over the highest casting cost card wins both cards. If there is a tie the two face-up cards are set aside and added to the next pair of cards flipped.

With eight players in the draft we played three rounds of Swiss followed by a cut to a final four. The draft was seated beginning with Mark, continuing counter-clockwise with Toone, Blake, Ferri, Lawson, Tuan, Scot and myself.

Michael Ferri reaches the finals (and keeps Lawson from reaching the finals for a third straight week) with a Temur deck containing a lot of fast creatures and quality removal tricks. Lawson maintained that Ferri stole his thunder this week. Lawson reached the finals in the previous two Swiss drafts with Temur decks. Tonight, Lawson was the number one seed after three rounds of Swiss but fell to Ferri in the semifinals.

Ferri hits hard and fast with a pair of Temur Chargers backed up with Highland Game and two copies of Icefeather Aven. The main idea with Icefeather Aven is to play it face down on turn three so that you can subsequently flip the Aven (also for three mana) to bounce an opponent’s creature and buy yourself a little board advantage. Ferri’s deck is aggressive enough that sometimes it makes sense to play Icefeather Aven on turn two, naked and face up. On turn four, I think Mistfire Weaver is even less mysterious. I play this morph face up more times than not. The Weaver’s flip-up triggered ability is a nice one because it can negate a removal spell, but conditions have to be just right. Usually, this doesn’t happen until later in the game. If it’s turn four and my opponent doesn’t have flyers, and maybe even if he does, I’m likely to play Mistfire Weaver face up.

Ferri gives a big thumbs-up to Longshot Squad, he plays three copies and names the card his common MVP for the deck. Ferri often chooses his common MVP ironically, so maybe the ginger-bearded hipster is messing with me. I think a lot of aspects of this card are messing with me. Creature – Hound Archer. Are you kidding me? Who thought it was a good idea to teach a dog how to shoot a bow and arrow? It took me a year to teach one of the smartest breeds on earth (Shetland Sheepdog) to poop outside. How long would it be before I could trust that fluffy sumbitch with a lethal weapon? The concept seems less shocking when you look at the card because the figures depicted in the artwork look more like some kind of rat-humanoid. The card is good, and unceremoniously so. No one gets excited about the card, which is how Ferri was able to dog-nap three of them, but it’s a strong common card with a lot of flexibility. On the play, this 3/3 for 3G gives you the perfect turn four answer for your opponent’s turn three morph play. If your opponent then wants to use a removal spell against your dog archers so that he can push damage through with his face down creature, you don’t mind at all, you probably have traded a much lower pick for the opponent’s precious piece of removal. Late in games, Longshot Squad can get huge with its outlast ability and these bow-hunting crotch-sniffers can turn into a serious defense against flyers. My favorite trick with this card involves Savage Punch, a card that Ferri has a single copy of in his deck. With no other creature in play than Longshot Squad, and without having a fifth land for turn number five, you can take out a very big creature on the other side of the board. Tap two mana and tap the Longshot Squad putting a +1/+1 counter on it. Now you can target it with Savage Punch and get the ferocious bonus allowing you to fight your dog with a 4/4 or even a 5/5 on the other side of the board without putting your prized pooch down.

This deck is fast and furious enough that in my test games I never actually got to play Incremental Growth, but I’d be happy to have it in a deck like this. There are a pair of Sagu Archers in here. They are more likely filling out the three slot (as a morph) more than anything else, but it is interesting just how many creatures Ferri has that can potentially block a flyer. Snowhorn Rider is the beatdown expert, when it comes to the common gold creatures of Khans.

Ferri’s spells are an interesting mix of hard removal and bounce. Force Away, Crippling Chill, and Waterwhirl reset opponent’s creatures to buy a little time. Disdainful Stroke, Arc Lightning, and Savage Punch/Temur Charm are a little more permanent. Crater’s Claws is the big finisher in many games. Ferri says it was passed to him.

Mark Hendrickson has been winning a lot of our drafts all year, but he’s been positively dominant drafting Khans of Tarkir. The best part is that he doesn’t draft the same deck twice, although he trends toward control decks. Tonight he has drafted a control deck, if by control you mean that he kills everything the other guy plays. Mark’s second pick of the draft, Rakshasa Deathdealer, defined his draft. He rightly chooses Debilitating Injury (his deck contains two copies) as his common MVP. In the test games I’ve played with Mark’s deck, Debilitating Injury has been just about the most important card. Having two copies virtually assures that his opponent’s first creature is dead every time. That’s a decent edge, all in itself.

For a control deck, Mark’s deck cares about the curve better than many Khans draft decks. There are nine spells that cost just two mana. I suppose Icefeather Aven will cost three mana oftentimes. Mark plays seventeen lands but with just one non-basic, he feels the need for a bit more color-fixing, and possibly acceleration, so he plays a Sultai Banner. I thought the Banners were solved and that nobody was playing them anymore, but I guess I was wrong. If anything, I think Banners are a go-slow card, as opposed to Mark’s two copies of Crippling Chill, which are all about tempo advantage. In my test games, on the play, I usually get in there on turn three with a turn two Heir of the Wilds. If my hand dictates that it’s going to be an aggressive, tempo-based game, I probably send in the Heir on turn three. Heir has deathtouch and can kill ANYTHING so my opponent should be keen to trade a face down creature for it right away. But they don’t. They want to keep their precious face down creature because they want it to mature into something better than a 2/2 Heir of the Wilds. They don’t want to trade. Mark can make that kind of thinking pay off for him when this deck is on an aggressive footing. Another reason Mark might be attacking with Heir on turn four is so he can follow up with Bellowing Saddlebrute without taking damage.

Back to the subject of Mark’s killing all of his opponent’s creatures, I believe his deck makes about the best use of Death Frenzy that I’ve seen in the format. People that like Death Frenzy tell you tales of destroying their opponents and how they get three for one or even four for one every time they play it. It just ain’t so. You want the opportunities to make this card effective to come up organically and naturally in a game, you don’t want to waste turns thinking about what creatures you should and shouldn’t play so that you can make your Death Frenzy work out the best for you. When you do this you’re playing around YOUR OWN CARDS. That doesn’t seem to be a problem in Mark’s deck. With Mark’s tempo game, his opponents are too busy trying to stop the bleeding to worry about whether they’ve committed too many face down 2/2s to the board. Then Mark cleans us with Death Frenzy. I can’t speak for every matchup, but Death Frenzy definitely does a lot of work against Mike Ferri’s deck this week.

And now a few words about a totally decent Khans rare that Mark David Hendrickson absolutely LOVES… Kheru Spellsnatcher. And why wouldn’t he? Mark’s a control player from way, way back. He loves spells. He loves snatch…ing victory from the jaws of defeat. Why wouldn’t he love Kheru Spellsnatcher? The best reason NOT to like it is that it costs six mana to flip it over. That’s SO MUCH MANA. It seems like this card sort of goes against the tempo game that most of the deck wants to play. The card still works in the deck, though it may be at least a tiny bit of a stretch.

There were two Icy Blasts floating around the table that were taken with late picks in two different packs. One of them ends up in Mark’s hands, another excellent control element for a control expert like Mark. Mark’s so old school that he’s even playing Impulse in his deck. Back in the day Impulse was an instant and only cost 1U. Today it’s a 2/5 creature that costs 2BGU. But I’m not going to sulk over this Sultai Shaman, he’s quite a good play. He also helps with delve because he puts the unused portions of your Impulse effect into the graveyard instead of shuffling them back into your deck. Rakshasa Vizier is an interesting 4/4 man in decks that delve because he gets +1/+1 counters equal to the number of cards that you exile with any delve spell. Too bad the only delve spell Mark has is Murderous Cut. That’s alright, one delve spell is better than none.

The last card I want to mention is Kin-Tree Invocation. It fits Mark’s style like a glove. This card encourages early game defensive cards like Archers’ Parapet (a control card) while providing a beefy two-mana-cost beat stick. Mark can play Archers’ Parapet on turn two and then follow with Kin-Tree Invocation putting a big 5/5 Spirit Warrior token onto the battlefield. What a beating.

The Matchup

Both decks can be fast. Ferri’s fast starts are all about 2/1 and 3/1 two-drops. Mark’s early game plays are creatures with deathtouch and Debilitating Injury. Mark’s early game cards are better than Ferri’s. On the other hand, the head-to-head matchup was surprisingly close. I say surprisingly because Mark’s deck won nine of the first ten games I played. I kind of figured Mark’s deck just had Ferri’s deck’s number. Then I played more games and the matchup became more even. Over the years, and after analyzing many Guildmage draft decks, I’ve learned that you can NEVER decide what deck is better in the matchup by simply looking at the deck list. Mark’s decklist looks better, more powerful, than Ferri’s. On the other hand, I like Ferri’s consistency. When in doubt, the thing I do is play more games. Ferri’s deck *needs* games to be quick, it has fewer big monsters with which to win long games. Strangely, it was the long games that Ferri’s deck often won. I still don’t believe I understand the way these two decks match up, not completely, but after thirty games I’m ready to call it. With two thirds of the wins, the edge goes to Mark. His early game creature kill and late game Icy Blast were often the things that made the difference. Advantage Mark.

Year to Date Drafting Champs

Mike Ferri keeps Lawson from reaching a third straight finals. It’s only Ferri’s second finals appearance this year, but it’s only his third draft with the Guildmages this year, all since Khans arrived. Ferri remains an excellent drafter even though he plays a lot less Magic than he once did. Mark extends his lead over Lawson with his fourteenth finals appearance of the year. Lawson all but conceded the 2014 crown with about six more Tuesday night meetings left in the year.

14 – Mark Hendrickson
12 – Lawson Zandi
8 – Jeff Zandi
7 – Steven Bruce
6 – Tuan Doan
6 – Brian Heine
6 – Cesar Collazo
5 – Jon Toone
5 – Scot Martin
4 – Patrick Lynch
4 – Aaron Tobey
2 – Ian Jasheway
2 – Joe Klopchic
2 – Kevin Grubbs
2 – Bassel Said
2 – Michael Ferri
1 – Andy Hamilton
1 – Thomas Verhoeven
1 – Nam Nguyen

In the House Tonight

Blake Bombich is the first to arrive tonight. You pronounce the last name (bomb-bick) in case you were worried about the ‘ch’ sound. Blake was into Magic ten or so years ago, enough so that he played in Pro Tour Qualifiers, though he didn’t travel very far to do so. Tonight is his seventh straight Tuesday night appearance since his pal Mark Hendrickson brought him along as a lark. On that first night, seven weeks ago, I probably thought it would be a one-time thing for Blake. I’m very happy to be wrong. Not only has Blake been here for Khans draft seven Tuesdays in a row, he’s been here even when Mark missed a week. Blake also traveled all the way to the Little Rock PTQ last month with Mark and Steven Bruce and Eric Jones. Blake is solidly back in the game, there’s no doubt about that. In advance of this Saturday’s sealed deck PTQ in Houston, Blake was planning on arriving early to practice. Strange as it sounds, I have a sealed deck gauntlet of eight sealed decks from previous PTQs and a group of sealed decks that went undefeated on day one of Grand Prix Orlando last month. Blake was, indeed, the first to arrive tonight, but only ten minutes before seven. There was no time to practice before tonight’s draft, although Blake did stick around and he and I built a pair of the undefeated decks from their full card pools. Blake, not knowing the history of the pool he was playing with, built a very workable Abzan deck. In the Grand Prix, the player with this pool went undefeated with a green/white deck with no non-basic lands. It’s hard to argue with an undefeated deck, but Blake’s addition of black was hardly greedy. It’s entirely possible Blake’s three-colored version of the deck is better.

Mark Hendrickson is next through the door. He’s happy to bow out of this Saturday’s trip to Houston. The truth is, nobody ever wants to go to Houston. It’s kind of a long trip in the morning and the city gets more congested every year. I was born there fifty years ago and even though I have many fond memories of the Space City, both as a kid and as a young adult, I would prefer to never live there again.

Tuan Doan arrives next. He is riding down to Houston for the PTQ this Saturday with me and Lawson and Blake. Tuan came tantalizingly close to a win at the PTQ in Lubbock two weeks ago. Among our group of guys, Tuan is the most improved player of the year. Along with his Lubbock top eight, he also reached the top eight of the first annual Hunter Burton Memorial Magic Open in March. Tuan is very dangerous when he gets focused on something.

Scot Martin is back again this week. He says he’s probably on bi-weekly attendance basis. I told him that’s great, but not to forget that we’ll be voting for Guildmage of the Year the first three Tuesdays in December. The last two Tuesdays in December are the 23rd and the 30th, two days before Christmas and one day before New Year’s Eve. It’s not obvious to me that we would cancel these two meetings, but we might.

Jon Toone is here this week, and he brings Mike Ferri along with him. Ferri is famous for the fact that he doesn’t drive. Other than being half hippie, whatever THAT means in the year of our lord 2014, Ferri has a brilliant mind for cards and, I believe, a great many other things. Jon Toone is whip-smart as well, but is sort of tethered to home in a way that is tricky to maneuver around. How to put all these powerful mutants together to create the perfect team. I wish I could figure it out!

No team draft after the Swiss draft. I think the switch to daylight savings time a few days ago is messing with everyone. It feels later than it really is when the first draft is finally over. Blake sticks around to play a sealed deck with me. A couple of the others hang around for just a few minutes to look at our pools. Mark rightly notices that I’m being a little greedy trying to force a fourth color into an obviously good Mardu pool. Mark makes his observation with no clue that the pool I’m playing with produced an undefeated Mardu sealed deck at Grand Prix Orlando last month. It sucks that Mark didn’t win in the finals in Lubbock weekend before last. He lost not a single game the whole day until the final match, and he was up a game in that one as well.

This closes the minutes of tonight’s meeting.

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

Texas Guildmage meeting #877, Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Roll Call (in order of arrival)
Jeff Zandi, Guildmage #7.
Lawson Zandi, junior Guildmage, 19th meeting in a row, 265th lifetime.
Blake Bombich, guest, 7th meeting in a row, 7th lifetime.
Mark Hendrickson, Guildmage #26, 1st meeting in a row, 374th lifetime.
Tuan Doan, guest, 1st meeting in a row, 31st lifetime.
Scot Martin, Guildmage #4, 1st meeting in a row, 208th lifetime.
Jon Toone, Guildmage #28, 1st meeting in a row, 195th lifetime.
Mike Ferri, guest, 1st meeting in a row, 58th lifetime.

Meeting ran from 6:50 pm to 11:35 pm

Play-by-play of a match between the two top decks of the eight man draft

T1 Ferri keeps Island, Forest, Incremental Growth, Arc Lightning, Longshot Squad, Icefeather, Aven and Witness of the Ages. Plays Forest.
T1 Mark keeps Swamp, Island, Bellowing Saddlebrute, Debilitating Injury, Krumar Bond-Kin, Rakshasa Deathdealer, Rakshasa Vizier. Draws and plays Forest.
T2 Ferri draws Temur Charger, plays Island, plays Temur Charger.
T2 Mark draws Forest, plays Swamp, plays Debilitating Injury enchanting and killing Temur Charger.
T3 Ferri draws and plays Icefeather Aven.
T3 Mark draws Forest, plays Island, plays Krumar Bond-Kin face down.
T4 Ferri draws and plays Island, plays Icefeather Aven face down.
T4 Mark draws and plays Forest, attacks with face down creature blocked by Icefeather Aven, Mark reveals Krumar Bond-Kin when it dies, plays Bellowing Saddlebrute.
T5 Ferri draws Savage Punch, flips Icefeather Aven bouncing Bellowing Saddlebrute back to Mark’s hand, attacks with Aven (18-20).
T5 Mark draws and plays Island, plays Rakshasa Vizier.
T6 Ferri draws and plays Sagu Archer face down, attacks with Aven (16-20).
T6 Mark draws Kheru Spellsnatcher, plays Forest, attacks with Vizier (16-16), plays Rakshasa Deathdealer, plays Kheru Spellsnatcher face down.
T7 Ferri draws and plays Sagu Archer face down.
T7 Mark draws Murderous Cut, plays Forest, attacks with Vizier blocked by two face down creatures, Mark plays Murderous Cut targeting Icefeather Aven exiling two cards from his graveyard, Vizier triggers and gets two +1/+1 counters, Ferri reveals two copies of Sagu Archer as they go to the graveyard.
T8 Ferri draws Temur Charm, plays Witness of the Ages face down.
T8 Mark draws Icy Blast, attacks with Deathdealer and Vizier, face down creature blocks Deathdealer, Mark pumps Deathdealer (16-10), face down revealed as Witness of the Ages when it dies.
T9 Ferri draws and plays Highland Game.
T9 Mark draws Waterwhirl, plays Icy Blast with X=1 targeting and tapping Highland Game, attacks with Vizier and Deathdealer and face down creature (16-0), Mark reveals face down creature as Kheru Spellsnatcher.

T1 Ferri keeps Forest, Island, Thornwood Falls, Crater’s Claws, Longshot Squad, Disdainful Stroke and Temur Charm. Plays Thornwood Falls (20-21).
T1 Mark keeps Swamp, Forest, Krumar Bond-Kin, Heir of the Wilds, Kin-Tree Invocation and two Debilitating Injury. Draws and plays Swamp.
T2 Ferri draws and plays Forest.
T2 Mark draws Island, plays Forest, plays Heir of the Wilds.
T3 Ferri draws Savage Punch, plays Island.
T3 Mark draws Kheru Spellsnatcher, plays Island, attacks with Heir (20-18), plays Krumar Bond-Kin face down.
T4 Ferri draws Winterflame, plays Forest, plays Longshot Squad.
T4 Mark draws Archers’ Parapet, attacks with Heir (20-16), plays Archers’ Parapet.
T5 Ferri draws and plays Temur Charger, plays Savage Punch targeting Longshot Squad, Squad fights Mark’s face down creature, Mark reveals Krumar Bond-Kin when it dies.
T5 Mark draws Icefeather Aven, plays Kin-Tree Invocation putting a 5/5 black and green Spirit Warrior creature token onto the battlefield, plays Debilitating Injury enchanting and killing Temur Charger, attacks with Heir of the Wilds blocked by Longshot Squad.
T6 Ferri draws and plays Rugged Highlands (20-17).
T6 Mark draws and plays Forest, attacks with Spirit Warrior token (20-12), plays Kheru Spellsnatcher face down, plays Icefeather Aven.
T7 Ferri draws and plays Forest.
T7 Mark draws Rakshasa Deathdealer, declares attack, Ferri plays Winterflame tapping the Spirit Warrior token and dealing two damage to Icefeather Aven, Mark attacks with face down creature (20-10), plays Rakshasa Deathdealer.
T8 Ferri draws Waterwhirl.
T8 At the beginning of Mark’s upkeep Ferri plays Waterwhirl targeting the face down creature and the Spirit Warrior token, Mark reveals face down creature as Kheru Spellsnatcher, Mark draws and plays Swamp, attacks with Deathdealer, pumps Deathdealer one time (20-6), plays Kheru Spellsnatcher face down.
T9 Ferri draws and plays Forest, plays Crater’s Claws with X=2 targeting Rakshasa Deathdealer.
T9 Mark draws Death Frenzy, attacks with face down creature (20-4).
T10 Ferri draws and plays Longshot Squad, at end of turn Mark activates Archers’ Parapet (20-3).
T10 Mark draws and plays Crippling Chill targeting and tapping Longshot Squad and drawing Ruthless Ripper, attacks with face down creature, Ferri plays Temur Charm targeting Longshot Squad, Squad fights face down creature, Mark reveals face down creature as Kheru Spellsnatcher when it dies, Mark plays Ruthless Ripper face down.
T11 Ferri draws Mountain.
T11 Mark draws Woolly Loxodon, attacks with face down creature (20-1), activates Archers’ Parapet (20-0), Mark reveals face down creature as Ruthless Ripper.