With the First Pick...

With the First Pick

When I first sat down to decide how exactly to present a Cube draft and game play report, I had remembered poorly executed articles I'd done in years' past. I thought that I'd just do a typical "results recap" article. Easy enough, I'll type up some clever little opening, and list all the participants with all their nicknames and a little blurb about them. I'll give my account of how the draft went, then a match-by-match recap that gives the reader information and perspective without boring them to tears. However, I'm a sports enthusiast and I often read Bill Simmons columns on ESPN (and when I say "often", I actually mean, "I cyber-stalk his column"). One of my favorite column types of his (besides the rabidly hilarious Mailbags), are his running diaries. Typically, he'll watch an event (anything from an actual game to an awards show), and basically timestamp his thoughts and reactions.

So before I get to the actual draft and the game play itself, there's a back story that should be included. There's a group of four that have been friends for years. We've had guys come and go, but the four of us have been the stalwarts. My nephew, Phess and the new guy, Turtle are the two most recent additions. It used to be all Bay Area, but some guys (by choice or not) have moved out of the Bay. What's interesting is that we've all participated in different sports, events and activities (from football and metal bands to computer science majors and wine drinking) together but Magic and Golf are pretty much the only ones that we all participate in. We've got a pretty eccentric play group. We've got some guys who've played in tournaments (and were not of the 0-2 drop variety) to guys who learned the game in the mid-90's then had a ten to twelve year layoff only to start playing again. Here's the cast of characters:

Maxx – I learned the game with him in 1994 when we bought Revised booster decks at a comic show on a whim. We were the best man at each other's weddings because of this. Well, other things too since I've known him for the better part of three decades. But, it's mostly because we bought booster decks together.

Jake – Maxx and I taught him the game literally the day after we bought our booster decks, except that he stopped playing a couple years after that. The three of us have been inseparable since at least 1988. This does not count separation by the justice system.

Raul – Is currently serving 20 years in Mather, CA. He says it's because he bought a house there. I tell him that nobody would voluntarily live there. He's been playing since 1995, and was the fourth member of the NorCal Crew to learn the game.

Turtle – He's the latest addition to the NorCal Crew. He learned the game back in the 1990's as well, but has started playing again within the last few months. He's our token FNG, and remarkably plays better after "a few". It should be known that he's an insanely good golfer. I don't know if that was the alcohol or three hours of sleep, but he's damn good.

Steve – This is the first time I've met Steve. Maxx met him at an FNM a few months back. He's a quiet guy, who as it turns out really knows his stuff. I'm thinking he's from a rival Cube playgroup, infiltrating our playgroup to learn our secrets and rituals. For the record, I didn't like my chances versus a guy in a "1998 World Championships Participant" T-shirt.

Ian – I met Ian way back in college. He's kept in touch with Jake over the years (this would be a good time to mention that we're all in our early 30's – I make us sound like we're 50), and this will be the first time I've seen him since the Clinton Administration.

Ben – Jake's old roommate. I met and jammed some MTG with Ben a few years ago. His playgroup has dissolved over the years and he may be entering free agency. I'll have to talk to our general manager to see if we have to cap space to send him a good offer to join the Crew.

We had our first Cube draft in June. Anyone who needs a quick Matrix-like download of information on Cube drafting click here and our Cube's deck list can be found here. It was four players (Raul, Maxx, Turtle and myself), and was enormous fun. We ignored the typical rule of not speaking during a draft, and literally laughed out loud (that would be "lol" for the younger people reading this) at every pack. I questioned my playgroup's intelligence during the first few picks of each pack wondering why certain cards were still available. Of course, they did the same. We learned a great many things about drafting the Cube. Such as NOT taking Tooth and Nail over Armageddon. Not only at P1P1 but typically ever (for the uninitiated, P#P# is the Pack # and Pick # -- the best/most powerful cards should always be Pick 1. I've landed some sweet stuff at Pick 4. But, that's what typically makes it "sweet"). And for the record, I didn't make this move, as I was the one who benefited from it, and snagged the Armageddon at P1P4 (Just sayin'). We played until the wee hours of the morning, and loved every second of it. We walked out of the house like the football players leaving the strip club in Varsity Blues.

Our second Cube draft was held in July. It was, again, four players (Maxx, Turtle, Jake and myself), and was great fun. Four people is all good, and I'll do that once a month for the rest of my life. However, I'm the big dreamer of the group, and I wanted something more. I wanted to see the Cube perform with a maximum number of players. Our yearly get together was coming up (a.k.a. Arch Madness, held every mid-August since 2002), and I had a plan. I wanted twelve players. My thinking was that if we got up to twelve, we'd end up with at least eight. My thinking was accurate. We had gotten up to twelve two weeks before the draft. We lost a guy here and there, and then on the day of the draft, our ninth player had to cancel. We were at eight players.

To ensure that I set the record for "Longest Opening Before Any Real Information Is Given In A Non-Fiction Write-Up", I'd like to state how we're drafting. We're all drafting together (instead of in pools), and instead of the typical three "booster" packs of fifteen, we're going to run with four packs of eleven. The reasoning for this is logical. We're essentially trading the 45th card for an extra Pick 1 (how many people actually use the 45th card? Using it as a Bitterblossom token doesn't count), and the draft direction goes in each direction twice. That's a good trade-off in my book (when people say this – do they actually have a book of values? Is it the same book that people refer to when they say, "You're alright in my book"? I need answers!)

My nephew Phess, who was one of the guys that cancelled, decided to show up without letting me know (this was a pleasant surprise), so I gave him as much info as I could before he decided to drop from the draft and help out making some food (he's a chef, and a damn good one too). He brought some bottles of wine from the Winery he works at, but mostly jammed Rock Band with my daughter, Marisa and my wife, Trish as well as guys who had finished matches and wanted a break from Magic. By 5:30, the bulk of everyone had showed up and we got all the cards squared away, shuffled, and separated into packs pretty quickly. We then had to break for formal introductions, ordering pizza and other important things such as beer selection. We sat in order, alternating experienced dudes with the inexperienced guys. There was not an official seat #1, so I'll put myself in position #1. Going clockwise from me, it went: Ian, Steve, Ben, Maxx, Turtle, Raul and Jake. We passed to the left for Packs #1 and #3, and to the right for Packs #2 and #4.

I propped open a laptop (it's truly funny how many of these are available when we get together to play Magic. Rules constantly get referenced and Raul always needs to be listening to an Andy Samberg song) and kept track of each of my picks. Below is my running diary from the draft and from the Round Robin (I put some post-draft and post-game play commentary in parenthesis):

6:32 PM – First card. Umezawa's Jitte. Windmill slam. While the table is still shaking, I realize that I should look at the other 8 cards in the pack – you know, just to be safe. Raul windmill slams Pernicious Deed. Others start slamming their picks as well and it becomes a running theme.

6:34 - Don't see anything that jumps out, so I take the best card available: Tarmogoyf. Not that it's awful.

6:37 – Pick 3 comes down to Flametongue Kavu and Mirror Entity. Based upon the now infamous Power Rankings, I know that FtK is the #1 ranked Red card and I know Entity isn't even in White's Top 20. The smart money tells me FtK is the choice.

6:41 – This one is between Forcefield, Icy Manipulator and Ohran Viper. The early picks tell me that I'll be playing Aggro (although it should be noted, I hate to commit to colors/archetypes this early). I figure I'll be selling out a lot on attacks and Forcefield might be a good defense.
(The Icy felt more controlish to me and my original thought was that I'd be tapping down potential blockers with it. I probably would've gotten more miles out of the Icy. Now that I think of it—why was I even looking at the Viper?)

6:42 – My nephew just came back from the store—avocados for what turns out to be some amazing guacamole that barely fits in the large bowl it's presented in. But back in the "real world", I take an Aether Vial and skip on 2 fetches—either of which I could use at this point, hopefully one tables.
(This was most likely my earliest, and smallest, mistake. Aether Vial hit the table exactly one time for me. I was not yet committed to a color nor an archetype, either one of the fetch lands would've been a better bet at this point.)

6:43 – Despite some genuine excitement, Ian just realized that seeing a bunch of good cards (let alone at Pick 6) in a single pack does not necessarily mean good news. Raul explains to him that those are the "leftovers".

6:48 – Sower of Temptation, Deep Analysis and Brainstorm all in the same pack. It's interesting to see these not only grouped together – but still grouped together.
(Little did I know that this is a sign of things to come, and now that I'm looking back on this, I should've made a move here. If you see a group of similar colored cards like this at the end of Pack 1, it's a strong sign that nobody is drafting that color. This would be the time that you shift your strategy, whether you have one or not, since you now have a good idea of what will be coming, instead of what might be. For the record, I took the Brainstorm. The casting cost made it pleasing, but the Sower is the better card, and had I taken it, it most likely would've sent me into Blue. This is not a bad thing.)

6:49 – Volcanic Fallout. What is this doing here? I don't really question it seeing as how Sower, Deep Analysis and Brainstorm were all available in the previous pack.

6:50 – With Pack 1 done, it seems that I'm pointed towards RG Aggro. This is a small victory for me, as I typically draft Control. It's time for a small break for a few guys to go pick up pizzas. This reminds me: I still owe Jake money for this.

7:17 – Pack 2 begins. There are plates of pizza everywhere, and for the first and only time all night, silence. The pizza must be good. I pass on Exalted Angel, Ajani Vengeant and Razormane Masticore. City of Brass is the most logical card here. (The most surprising thing to happen with Pack #2 was that Angel made it four players away on the complete opposite side of the table before finally being taken.)

7:23 – I like Wild Mongrel. He's cheap, he can change colors, and he can really screw up combat math. Think of him as a useful Grizzly Bears. But, at this point I have absolutely no beef. Cudgel Troll is twice the cost, but is also twice the (stock) power, has regenerate, and makes some (if not most, if not all) of your opponent's spot removal dead. Plus, I don't really need a discard engine. Troll wins.
(Looking back – this was a gigantic mistake. Mongrel is easier to cast and can get bigger than the Troll easily. The double green in the Troll's casting cost is what forced me into green—and believe me, there are better cards to force a commitment than the Troll.)

7:31 – Terminate shows up. I need some nice spot removal and this card is one of the best at it. At least it won't be targeting my newly acquired Cudgel Troll.

7:34 – Harmonize. Talk about a nice little bail out. It makes me feel like I'm drafting blue. Having draw in RG Aggro is pretty useful.

7:36 – Raul makes an awful statement about how a Thelonius Monk beer relates to the amount of body hair he has. I have to jump all over a Strip Mine over a Creeping Mold.

7:37 – Three beers in, Raul is complaining about his drafted card. This is interesting because I'm typically the most animated person during a draft. I steal a Sudden Shock. At this point I know at least two other guys are playing red, but I haven't spotted where. I am convinced that Ian is playing green—if not purposely stealing all of it. I have absolutely no read on Jake whatsoever.
(My no-read on Jake was totally warranted; all the decklists are below. And yes, Ian played green.)

7:39 – It won't see play in my deck, but there is nothing in this pack whatsoever, so I'll take the pet card of all pet cards: Dakkon Blackblade.

7:41 – I'm still waiting to land an absolute bomb when Pick 10 comes through in a big way. Sulfuric Vortex was a much talked about card for the last month or so. Guys on the Cube Forum spoke so highly of it and now I have one in my possession. Let's see if it performs how they all say it does.

7:41 – Electrolyze shows up at Pick 11. This might actually see play.

7:42 – Pack 3. I take Slith Firewalker over Fulminator Mage and Thunderblust. (I think Thunderblust was supposed to be the pick here, although later on I discovered exactly how much people HATE the Firewalker. It's funny how I complain about not having any beef at the Mongrel/Troll pick, then I select a 1/1 haste over a 7/2 haste. This was not a smart choice by me.)

7:45 – I can't decide between Molten Disaster and Greater Gargadon. I take both. Just kidding...I take the Disaster (mass removal for the win!) in hopes that the Gargadon tables. We'll see.

7:54 – I have a decision between Giant Growth, Llanowar Elves and Naturalize. I take the enchant/artifact hate. I'll hate myself later – after I hate on enchantments and artifacts during game play. There are just too many enchantments and artifacts that win games when they go unanswered because people always forget to draft the simple cards like this to answer them.
(I'm glad I took this when I did. I saw absolutely zero artifact and enchantment hate before and after this pick. Trygon Predator doesn't count since it never saw the main deck.)

7:57 – I'm really questioning stuff now. I just saw Treachery and Bribery in back-to-back packs. Not to mention Cryptic Command went Pick 11 to Raul. And these packs came from him towards me. Obviously, nobody is playing blue, and this relates directly to Pack 1 when Sower, Deep Analysis and Brainstorm all showed up together late.

(I'm going to go off on a slight tangent here. Hindsight is 20/20 and whatnot. Look, here's the thing; this late in the draft, you're obviously trying to support the colors that you've spent the previous 2-1/2 packs drafting. But when you see powerhouses such as Bribery and Treachery in back-to-back packs, you effing take them. I can't stress this enough. Worst case is that you keep them from the guy who's thinking about playing blue and since he doesn't see them, he's now discouraged from playing it. Best case is that you end up with some bombs later on and convince yourself to play blue. These are cards that people discuss taking at P1P1. And they're both double-colored casting cost. If people are willing to commit to blue at P1P1 because of these cards, shouldn't you be taking them at P3P8? Absolutely. Cube 3, Me 0)

7:59 – Much to my delight, the Gargadon tables. I need some beef, and it comes in the form of a 9/7 creature who will cost R to "cast." You're crazy if you think I'll ever hard cast this guy.

Don't be a fool, draft the right tools

8:01 – Pure anger at P4P1. I pass on Mox Diamond, Tangle Wire and Fastbond for a Fires of Yavimaya. I'll definitely hate myself in the morning. I really wanted that Diamond. (And in retrospect, I should've taken the Diamond. I royally screwed up this pick. Tangle Wire is better than Fires, and Diamond is better than Wire. I seriously have no idea what I was thinking. I can't even make something up for what I was thinking.)

8:06 – It's between Ball Lightning and Kitchen Finks. I take Finks. I know I'm in two colors, but I'm just not feeling that RRR on the Lightning. Plus, I also have some spells that hurt me and a little life gain can go a long way in this type of build. (Another quick hit here: Had I taken that Thunderblust at P3P1, it would've changed this pick to Ball Lightning. I would've been heavier in Red at that point. But instead, I have Cudgel Troll and Kitchen Finks, both of which will require double Green when I have a bunch of burn that requires double Red. Pure idiocy.)

8:08 – Future Sight, Morphling and Clone just came from my left. I'm convinced that nobody is playing blue. Chris Berman says, "Once is an accident, two is a trend, three is evidence." This pack is evidence. Truth be told, I could've had the Brainstorm, Treachery, Bribery and taken the Morphling here.

8:10 – As I'm in the middle of windmill slamming Molten Rain (the only red OR green card), I notice Ninja of the Deep Hours and Vendilion Clique. It's official. I'm an idiot. For a guy who claims blue as his favorite color, I sure did a fine job of avoiding it like an unspecified STD.

8:16 – I just saw Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, Inkwell Leviathan, Recoil, Keiga, the Tide Star, Washout and Jushi Apprentice in two packs. Had I used my brain during Pack 1, I'd be neck deep in UR CounterBurn. These two picks would've been Teferi and Keiga.

8:17 – Pack 4, Pick 11: Mana Drain. This is a semi-windmill slam P1P1 card. Why am I getting it in the last pick of the last pack. Are you effing kidding me?

Besides completely missing the bus on blue, I'm happy with the draft as I drafted Aggro, don't get me wrong. But with the amount of firepower that I saw in blue, I would've had the following cards had I followed my instinct way back in Pack 1: Brainstorm, Counterspell (At P3P9 no less), Mana Drain, Keiga the Tide Star, Teferi Mage of Zhalfir, Divert, Vendilion Clique, Morphling, Force of Will and Evacuation. Not to mention I had also landed an Electrolyze and passed on Gelectrode. This certainly would've changed some of my picks along the way, including taking Tangle Wire/Mox Diamond and Smokestack. I'm not saying I would have played them all, but that's quite a toolbox to select from.

Below is my ordered draft, final maindeck and sideboard, followed by all the other decklists:

Arch's DraftMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Pack 1
1 Umezawa's Jitte
1 Tarmogoyf
1 Flametongue Kavu
1 Forcefield
1 Aether Vial
1 River Boa
1 Tendo, Ice Bridge
1 Brainstorm
1 Volcanic Fallout
1 Trygon Predator
1 Divert

Pack 2
1 City of Brass
1 Cudgel Troll
1 Starstorm
1 Demonfire
1 Terminate
1 Harmonize
1 Strip Mine
1 Sudden Shock
1 Dakkon Blackblade
1 Sulfuric Vortex
1 Electrolyze

Pack 3
1 Slith Firewalker
1 Molten Disaster
1 Pouncing Jaguar
1 Incinerate
1 Naturalize
1 Triskelion
1 Mindslaver
1 Counterspell
1 Greater Gargadon
1 Boros Signet

Pack 4
1 Fires of Yavimaya
1 Chain Lightning
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Fork
1 Reclaim
1 Talisman of Indulgence
1 Molten Rain
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
1 Keiga, the Tide Star
1 Mana Drain

Arch's RG AggroMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Slith Firewalker
1 Greater Gargadon
1 Volcanic Fallout
1 Chain Lightning
1 Starstorm
1 Fork
1 Incinerate
1 Molten Disaster
1 Demonfire
1 Sudden Shock
1 Sulfuric Vortex
1 Molten Rain
1 Flametongue Kavu

1 Tarmogoyf
1 Cudgel Troll
1 Pouncing Jaguar
1 River Boa
1 Harmonize
1 Naturalize

1 Aether Vial
1 Umezawa's Jitte
1 Talisman of Indulgence
1 Forcefield

Gold, Hybrid & Split
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Fires of Yavimaya
1 Terminate

1 Wooded Foothills
1 Tendo, Ice Bridge
1 City of Brass
1 Strip Mine
5 Mountain
6 Forest

Ian's GW TokenMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Survival of the Fittest
1 Giant Growth
1 Rancor
1 Storm Seeker
1 Imperious Perfect
1 Krosan Grip
1 Fertile Ground
1 Twinblade Slasher
1 Briarhorn
1 Groundbreaker
1 Hurricane

1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Order of Leitbur
1 Mirror Entity
1 Cloudgoat Ranger
1 Weathered Wayfarer
1 Savannah Lions
1 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
1 White Knight
1 Wing Shards
1 Chastise
1 Abeyance

1 Grafted Wargear
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Isochron Scepter

Gold, Hybrid & Split
1 Mirari's Wake

1 Temple Garden
7 Plains
7 Forest

Ben's Jund ControlMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Stupor
1 Graveborn Muse
1 Nezumi Graverobber
1 Damnation
1 Kokusho, the Evening Star
1 Nantuko Shade

1 Incendiary Command
1 Magus of the Scroll
1 Kird Ape
1 Balduvian Horde
1 Hammer of Bogardan
1 Akroma, Angel of Fury
1 Flamebreak

1 Viridian Zealot
1 Wild Mongrel
1 Stonewood Invocation
1 Ohran Viper
1 Llanowar Elves

Gold, Hybrid & Split
1 Sarkhan Vol
1 Spellbreaker Behemoth
1 Fulminator Mage
1 Wrecking Ball

1 Badlands
1 Taiga
1 Bayou
1 Grand Coliseum
5 Swamp
5 Mountains
4 Forest

Maxx's Mono White ControlMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Worship
1 Exalted Angel
1 Enlightened Tutor
1 Seht's Tiger
1 Balance
1 Silver Knight
1 Yosei, the Morning Star
1 Cataclysm
1 Serra Angel
1 Path to Exile
1 Knight of Meadowgrain
1 Mother of Runes
1 Eternal Dragon
1 Hand of Honor
1 Leonin Skyhunter
1 Seal of Cleansing
1 Sigiled Paladin
1 Galepowder Mage
1 Wrath of God

1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Bonesplitter
1 Cathodion

Gold, Hybrid & Split
1 Unmake

17 Plains

Jake's 5-color NightmareMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Blood Knight
1 Ball Lightning
1 Shivan Dragon
1 Firebolt
1 Vulshok Sorcerer
1 Rorix Bladewing

1 Sengir Vampire
1 Cemetery Reaper
1 Skriekmaw

1 Dominate
1 Stroke of Genius
1 Thieving Magpie
1 Mana Leak

1 Mox Diamond

Gold, Hybrid & Split
1 Hellkite Overlord
1 Simic Sky Swallower
1 Vorosh, the Hunter
1 Ajani Vengeant

1 Reflecting Pool
1 Underground River
1 Volcanic Island
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Blood Crypt
1 Watery Grave
2 Plains
1 Forest
2 Island
4 Swamp
4 Mountain

Turtle's RB ControlMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Kumano, Master Yamabushi
1 Gorilla Shaman
1 Siege-Gang Commander
1 Thunderblust
1 Kamahl, Pit Fighter
1 Beacon of Destruction
1 Jackal Pup
1 Magma Jet
1 Fireball
1 Tectonic Break
1 Dead // Gone
1 Sneak Attack

1 Toshiro Umezawa
1 Order of the Ebon Hand
1 Profane Command
1 Hymn to Tourach
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Imperial Seal
1 Phyrexian Scuta

1 Nevinyrral's Disk
1 Skullclamp
1 Tormod's Crypt
1 Masticore
1 Chromatic Star

Gold, Hybrid & Split
1 Vexing Shusher

1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Lake of the Dead
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Bloodstained Mire
6 Mountain
6 Swamp

Raul's 4-color ControlMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Barter in Blood
1 Juzam Djinn
1 Dark Confidant
1 Unearth
1 Smother
1 Dark Ritual
1 Sinkhole
1 Cruel Edict
1 Yawgmoth's Will

1 Ice Storm
1 Troll Ascetic
1 Joiner Adept
1 Regrowth
1 Call of the Herd
1 Worldly Tutor

1 Time Walk

1 Ryusei, the Falling Star

1 Lotus Petal
1 Mox Jet
1 Lotus Bloom
1 Fellwar Stone

Gold, Hybrid & Split
1 Stillmoon Cavalier
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Pernicious Deed

4 Swamp
4 Forest
2 Mountain
2 Island
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Breeding Pool
1 Golgari Rot-Farm
1 Vivid Marsh

Steve's 3-Color ControlMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
1 Necropotence
1 Kagemaro, First to Suffer
1 Bitterblossom
1 Snuff Out
1 Mutilate
1 Undead Gladiator
1 Doom Blade
1 Thrashing Wumpus
1 Reanimate

1 Phantom Centaur
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder

1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Duplicant
1 Behemoth Sledge
1 Scroll Rack
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Golgari Signet
1 Icy Manipulator
1 Zuran Orb

Gold, Hybrid & Split
1 Death Grasp
1 Spiritmonger
1 Putrefy

1 Windswept Heath
1 Treetop Village
1 Plains
9 Swamp
5 Forest

So, as you can see, my suspicion was true. Absolutely nobody used blue as a main color. I can't believe I just typed that. Magic's most powerful color, while drafted (but probably not by choice, more by force), goes almost completely unplayed. The blue cards in sideboards are just scary. Just the blue in my sideboard is scary. Maxx had the other half of scary. Anyways, there are two major factors post-draft that I'm thrilled with. One, I finally drafted Aggro. Did I force it? Maybe. And I was probably too disciplined when it came to sticking to my colors/archetype. Second, Maxx drafted a mono-colored deck. Looking at his decklist, it's a mono-colored monster too. He drafted some house white cards, then built a very solid deck.

Let's get to the match-ups:

Match 1 – Versus Ben (Jund Control):
Game 1

8:38 PM - I win the roll, decide to play. Turn one: Mountain, suspend Gargadon. This is the first time I've played with a Gargadon, and it turns out that while he's suspended, you really don't mind when stuff gets removed. You just turn around and pitch the dead permanent to remove a time counter. This is very convenient.

8:41 – We trade creatures and damage and the time counters on the Gargadon are ever-shrinking. It suddenly occurs to me, "Hey! I might actually get this thing into play!"

8:43 – He gets a Sarkhan Vol into play, and without creatures, uses the +1 loyalty immediately in hopes of the higher loyalty providing some form of defense. (Let me tell you how unprepared most of the players were for Planeswalkers. There were decks that simply did not have an answer for them. The occasional Maelstrom Pulse or Vindicate aside, the players' only answer was to attack the Planeswalker. Lucky for me, I had plenty of burn for such things. However, Vol was the only ‘Walker I saw all night and he didn't last long...)

8:44 – I Chain Lightning Ben, putting an Instant into my grave, thus beefing up my Goyf, then swing at Sarkhan with said Goyf at 5/6 and swing at Ben with a 2/2 Jaguar. Sarkhan dies and any advantage Ben had is gone. It turns out that I didn't even need to burn the Planeswalker.

8:47 – I get Ben into danger range, I've removed all his creatures and my Garg has two counters left. He's at 9 life and I don't want to give him another turn. At the end of his turn, I pitch my tapped Jaguar and a land to bring the big boy into play.

8:48 – Ben sees the 9/7 come his way and knows it's over. We shuffle up, and he decides he wants an eighth card instead of playing first.

Game 2
8:51 – I go first, and play a Pouncing Jaguar. Next turn, I happily pay the Echo and swing. Good news gets better. The next turn I play a Jitte, the turn after that I equip it for maximum effectiveness.

8:55 – I'm starting to accumulate counters on my Jitte. I use a few to remove his smaller guys, but I'm hating life because I can't draw into that second Forest. Why is this bad? I have Harmonize and Cudgel Troll in hand. Ben makes things really bad for me by casting Wrecking Ball on my lone Forest. Now would be a fine time for that Troll to be a Wild Mongrel instead. Mongrel would be on the board and instead of that Harmonize basically being dead, it would turn into extra damage if I pitch it to the Mongrel.

8:56 – His timing turns out to be perfect. I draw City of Brass. So I play my City and I'm in the waiting game on my Forest again. Ben draws and plays a Ravenous Baboons. Anyone know what Baboons do? They screw people with four mountains, a City of Brass and are desperately trying to find two green sources.

8:58 – Ben has finally gotten six mana, and plays a Kokusho. I'm low on life, and even lower on flying blockers (zero). I buy some time with some Jitte tricks on his guys and on my own Kitchen Finks, but when the math (in my head) works out to 1 life, Ben broadsides me with a Stonewood Invocation (10/10 Kokusho anyone?). I lose the game with Harmonize and Troll still in my hand. Lesson learned. I seriously doubt I would have lost this game had I taken the Mongrel.

Game 3
9:01 – Here comes the fun again, turn one Mountain into Gargadon.

9:03 – He starts with a turn two Nantuko Shade, followed by an Ohran Viper a couple turns later (which starts giving him cards), followed by him dropping damage points on my face with a Balduvian Horde. Meanwhile, I can't find a second Forest. Again.

9:05 – Arch, meet Kokusho. Again.

Game 1-2, Match 0-1.

I had an even number of Mountains and Forests, not to mention two domain lands and an on-color fetch. Why was I not finding a second Forest? Aether Vial over the fetches might have something to do with this. I switched seats, and found my all-time nemesis, Maxx.

Match 2 – Versus Maxx (Mono-White Control):
Game 1

9:10 – I'll keep this short. I got a Forcefield into play, albeit a little late, but he totally mashes my face in with Galepowder Mage, Sigiled Paladin, Mother of Runes, and Serra Angel. I play a Molten Disaster that leaves the Mage and Angel. I just don't have the fuel.

Game 2
9:19 – This game goes differently. I get a quick jump with Jaguar and River Boa. I'm waiting for my Jitte to show up and make this ridiculous. Maxx casts a Wrath of God after these two guys take him down to 10.

9:19 – Yes, this timestamp is correct. I drew the Jitte. I'm stuck with a Flametongue Kavu in hand (and no creatures in play).

9:23 – Lightning strikes in the form of Sulfuric Vortex. I immediately play it. Maxx swears.

9:25 – He tries some damage control with a Sigiled Paladin and a Loxodon Warhammer. Good thing I have that FtK.

9:31 – Sulfuric Vortex brings the pain. This card is exactly how everyone has been billing it. It's literally a Red Clock. I can't believe this was available at Pick 10. Furthermore, I'm somewhat peeved that I didn't even see Vortex against Ben.

Game 3
I have some socializing to do with neighbors. Our rubber match gets put on hold as I am giving tours of my house. We have like a dozen people in the house so neighbors want to see what all the hype is. I point out the eight guys playing Magic and the three to five people playing Rock Band. I give a couple of tours, fill a couple glasses of wine, pop open some beers, and then try to even my record against Maxx. Jake is singing "Chop Suey" by System of a Down while Marisa tries to drum using the bottoms of the sticks (this looks like a two-year-old sitting in their high chair pouting, wanting food or something). This is insanely entertaining.

9:44 – I'll keep this short. I never draw into a second red source. I have Volcanic Fallout, Molten Disaster, Fork and Sulfuric Vortex in hand. Anyone seen Rocky IV? This is Drago versus Creed. I wasn't Drago.

That would be my metaphorical self on the right.

Game 2-4, Match 0-2.

Raul and I were talking about our decks (he's 0-3, 0-6 overall, losses to Maxx, Ian and Steve) and I couldn't figure out why mine wasn't operating well at all. It made zero sense to me that I was having trouble finding a second source of either of my colors.

Match 3 – Versus Raul (4-color Control):
Game 1

9:50 – This is the "Something's Got to Give" match-up. Turn one, Mountain into Garg.

9:53 – I'm cruising along and as much as he hates to do it, he has to spot remove a lot of my guys which simply turns into less counters on the Gargadon.

10:00 – With Dark Confidant and Razormane Masticore in play, Raul asks the now legendary question during his upkeep, "Do I get to choose which one I get to choose?" Turtle looks at him and says, "Did you just ask if you get to choose which one you get to choose?" Raul thinks about it, laughs, and then Turtle wraps his arm around him and laughs, "We're almost there!" He obviously means to ask if he gets to choose which upkeep effect resolves first.

10:02 – We're close and this game is running tight. He has 7 life remaining from my early beats and I'm down to 4 from a combination of Volcanic Fallout and a large Molten Disaster to clean his board.

10:03 – Garg comes into play, I equip it with Umezawa's Jitte, and he gets greeted with Swords to Plowshares. I just gained 9 life, and now it's 13-7. He is totally ok with this move, until I drop a Sulfuric Vortex. He responds with a Platinum Angel on the next turn. I let the Vortex take his life down, then cast a Starstorm to kill his Angel. This is greeted with a very unfriendly look.

Game 2
10:05 – He finishes cursing my Gargadon and Vortex. The latter because it has been winning games for me; the former, only because it doesn't quite render spot removal useless, but there certainly is a benefit to me that normally wouldn't be there. Jake walks up and offers to freshen up our drinks. This is almost casino-like. (Is that even a feasible idea? Somewhere, deep within the bowels of Binion's there's a bunch of tables housing various formats of Magic. I'm not talking in the backrooms, I'm talking in the back of the backrooms. There's a Standard tournament, Legacy tournament, EDH tournament and a Cube draft all taking place. 47-year-old waitresses who tell stories of how they worked at the Stardust during the 80's are now reduced to feeding watered down drinks to Magic players. We tip well, but it's obvious they don't want to be there. Instead of dealers, the casino has to employ DCI judges. The judges take would have to be a piece of whatever's earned at the door. High stakes Cube draft anyone? Someone needs to look into this. Magic needs their own casino.)

10:07 – I start quickly again, get the early beats, then drop a Sulfuric Vortex. Now he's angry. He literally looks like someone spilled his beer, took his wallet, and ripped his precious Yawgmoth's Will in half. But that someone hasn't yet kicked his dog.


10:10 – He's now at 7. He starts to untap his lands. I put my hand out and say, "Stop." I tap two lands for an Incinerate. He asks what phase he's in. I inform him that I've stopped him during his Upkeep. He nods and says, "After Vortex effect?" I nod. He grimaces and says, "Ok, I'm at 2." I tap two more lands for Sudden Shock. He curses my Sulfuric Vortex some more.

It was interesting that he was more upset with me landing a first turn Gargadon in a few games, when the real culprit at this point is Sulfuric Vortex. That card is doing a good job of not making friends.

Game 4-4, Match 1-2.

After the match, I took a look at his deck, which was 48 cards and help him flip some stuff around. I removed white completely from his deck, added a splash of red for Ryusei, and trimmed him down to forty cards. He then went into his match with Ben. I moved into mine with Steve who had been lighting people up (3-0 match, 6-0 overall).

Match 4 – Versus Steve (BG/w Control):
Game 1

10:25 – I start quick, and then quickly fizzle out. I draw land for five straight turns, never drawing the finishing threats I need. He draws like crazy off of Scroll Rack and Necropotence. Ever see an Undead Gladiator turn into an Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, then snag your Flametongue Kavu that kills your tapped Tarmogoyf? Not fun.

Game 2
10:39 – He nails a first turn Treetop Village. I nail a second turn Strip Mine. You do the math.

10:41 – I get out a quick lead with a River Boa. He lands a Bitterblossom, and every turn after that is: Steve put 1/1 token. Arch attack. Steve block. Arch regenerate. The Boa did take him down to 12 before the Blossom showed up.

10:46 – Damn it. Necropotence followed by Zuran Orb. This is all bad. I've got a lead, but this is bad. Bitterblossom and Necropotence chip away at his life total. He has to pitch lands to the Zorb to stay alive. I immediately start burning him every chance I get. He has to run out of lands eventually right?

10:48 – His Undead Gladiator and Jens are getting on my nerves. I lose my guys when I cast Volcanic Fallout. On my next turn, I play Fires of Yavimaya followed by a 5/6 Tarmogoyf. Swing!

10:51 – Duplicant on my Goyf. I'm not concerned. I took that Naturalize, remember? No more Dupe. Raul refers to it as, "Dupli-CAN".

10:53 – The Magic Gods want me to compete in this game. They give me a top deck of Sulfuric Vortex. Steve knows things just went South for him.

10:54 – He casts a Spiritmonger. Wait. That's a Sword of Fire & Ice he has there right? I'm in a bad way.

10:58 – He's now down to 1 land, Necropotence is officially off-line and Bitterblossom has turned into a nuisance for him. The Monger is one turn from killing me, and he has 11 life. He's probably lost 30+ life this game between me, the Vortex, and the Blossom. Damn that Zorb. I have one play, and one play only. I don't know what's in his hand, but with my hand, I've got to go all-in. I tap seven lands and a Talisman of Indulgence and lay a Demonfire and Fork on the table for a total of 10 damage—that would put him at 1, he'll take 3 at the next upkeep from Blossom + Vortex, and he only has 1 land he can pitch for 2 life. I put him exactly at zero. He looks at me as if I just stole his girlfriend. I said, "This is all I got. I hope it's enough." (In a text message a few days after the Draft, he said, "I woulda won game2 vs u if I hadn't timidly held back 1 land from my zorb (but who expects a forked demonfire!?)" I sent him a very simple response, "Welcome to the Cube!")

Game 3
11:00 – This game is a little better for me. I get an early Pouncing Jaguar, followed by Kitchen Finks and a 22 point life total. He's at 11 when the bane of his existence shows up: Sulfuric Vortex. My guys stop coming due to removal, but my own burn and mass removal (which also touches him a little) force him to succumb to the Vortex.

Game 6-5, Match 2-2.

Post game, he simply stated, "I had absolutely no answer for that Vortex." I told him how excited I was to see Kitchen Finks and Sulfuric Vortex in my opening hand. Gain the early life, put him on a clock with Vortex, and pray for no removal. Volcanic Fallout and Molten Disaster only sped things up. So maybe the Vortex is exactly what everyone said it was?

Not to be underrated. Ever.

I hooked up with Raul who just beat Ben 2-0. In Game 1, he had untapped with a Ryusei, the Falling Star, then made the following play: Swing with Ryusei for 5. Cast Time Walk. Untap, Swing with Ryusei for 5 more. Play Yawgmoth's Will, play Time Walk from graveyard. Untap, Swing with Ryusei for 5 more. That's a brutal way to take 15. In Game 2, he had suspended a Lotus Bloom and had two lands in play, pitched the Bloom for RRR, tapped a Swamp, played Dark Ritual, and dropped a Ryusei. Some totally illegal combination of Time Walk, Yawg's Will and Regrowth won him that game too. He couldn't believe how well his deck was playing now. He didn't draft horribly, but his original build was a beacon of inconsistency.

Match 5 – Versus Turtle (RB Control):
Game 1

11:32 – He's talking a lot of trash. At this point I'll assume it's the brewery-sized amount of beer he's had. I open with mana and removal, but no threats.

11:34 – We do a few "Land, Go's", then on turn five he plays a Kumano, Master Yamabushi. On my next turn, I play Flametongue Kavu. I've turned some small burn into a threat. I can deal with that. Turtle's visibly upset. I offer a tissue.

11:35 – His turn six, he plays Siege-Gang Commander. On my next turn, I play Volcanic Fallout. It's plays like this that frustrate Turtle to no end. I lost my FtK, but I really don't feel like dealing with a Commander once he untaps.

11:37 – Eventually Cudgel Troll and Goyf bring the pain with all that burn clearing the way, and Turtle succumbs to my two green beaters.

Game 2
11:43 – He can't believe I have perfect answers for his two big early threats. I say I am lucky, he swears that I can see into the future. No, I'm being honest. He really thinks I see the future. Either that or I print cards during his turn to produce my answers to his threats.

11:46 – Jaguar and River Boa start lowering life totals. Well, his life total anyways. He gets rid of them and I follow up with a Slith Firewalker (who for the night, never got larger than 3/3). I have a FtK in hand, but no target (other than my Slith) and Turtle now has a Nevinyrral's Disk in play. I'll wait for him to pop the Disk before I try to play this FtK on something...anything.

11:48 – Once again, my MVP shows up. Sulfuric Vortex. I can't play the FtK and I don't want to play the Vortex as Disk rids us of enchantments. The Slith eventually gets on his nerves, so he pops his disk when I attack. During my second main, I put the Vortex into play. I can now focus all my burn on his dome. Turtle realizes that in RB, he can't draw into an answer for the Vortex. He has a few turns to make something happen, and tries to come at me with a Toshiro Umezawa, who is the unlucky one who gets greeted by the FtK.

Game 8-5, Match 3-2

12:00 AM – It seems that I've finally figured this deck out. Since that 0-2 start, I'm 3-0. My game record has improved as well, starting 2-4, I've gone 6-1 since. Jake had taken a break to jam Rock Band with Marisa, Trish, and Phess, so after 11:00, we basically had one or two guys on byes until Jake started playing Magic again. He did hard cast a Simic Sky Swallower, followed by a Hellkite Overlord in the same game (on consecutive turns no less!); and that, at minimum, deserves a mention. Turtle was on the receiving end of that one. Turtle rebounded and turned around a Sneak Attack into Thunderblust. That's a pretty cool play when you're short on R. Turtle ended up taking the match with Jake, 2-1, thanks to a nice play of Profane Command with help from Lake of the Dead. Jake doesn't really like the format, as he only played 2 games. When we played back in July, he was so-so on it. I'm pretty sure this will be his last time jamming the Cube.

12:35 AM – Raul took his new build into a rematch with Steve, and this time he won 2-0. This was enough vindication for him. He went 4-0 with the new build. His only "official" match win was versus Ben, who had gone 2-2 match, 4-5 overall.

Ben had beat me in his first match, lost to Steve, and then beat Turtle before losing to Raul. Given that he hadn't played Magic in awhile, as well as this being his first time Cube drafting, I think he did well.

Ian got off to a nice 3-0 start, beating Jake and Raul cleanly before losing his first game to Turtle, but eventually winning the match. He then faced Maxx in a couple of very hard-fought games, one of which involved Maxx swinging with a Seht's Tiger equipped with a Loxodon Warhammer and a Bonesplitter. Ian blocked cleanly with a Silver Knight equipped with Grafted Wargear and a Caller of the Claw. Maxx tapped a Mother of Runes to save the Tiger, but the Caller was 3/3 because of Mirari's Wake, so the Tiger was gone. Maxx simply cast Wrath of God in his second main, which was good news giving the six creatures that Ian had in play along with the recently cast Mirror Entity (who, when coupled with Mirari's Wake, causes serious problems). Maxx ended up winning 2-0 on the strength of his deck loaded with removal. That game ended around 1:30 AM, and Ian couldn't go any longer (I really wanted next – but it wasn't to be. Raul had offered to pilot Ian's deck, but that's about as unofficial as it can be) and called it a night. It would seem that Ian did well in his first Cube draft as well.

Maxx then locked horns with Steve for two very epic games and they decided to call it quits after they were tied 1-1 around 3 AM. Steve's only loss was to me, and he ended the night with a 3-1 match, 8-3 overall record. This was his first time Cube drafting as well. The new guys overall ended the night 8-4 match, 18-11 overall. Regardless of how the Crew finished, this made the entire night a success.

The man deserves his own paragraph. The toast of the night was Maxx. Not only did he draft a mono-colored deck (which made my night), he was an absolute force. He only lost two games all night. One to me (he mopped the floor with me in the other 2, but looking back, I feel a lot better about winning at least one game) and one to Steve. Against me, he was constantly one turn ahead of me (or I was one turn behind him, I'm not sure; either way, it wasn't good news for me). Considering the strength of his deck, I can't imagine that anyone else had a different story. He had very useful toolbox creatures as well as the ones you never want to see like Eternal Dragon and Exalted Angel. He ended the night (not only unresolved with that 1-1 match with Steve) with a 3-0 match, 7-2 game record. I desperately want to see Game 3 between these two guys. Luckily, I have all the decklists, so I can promise anyone reading this that I will make this game happen.

Here's how everyone finished:
Maxx – 3-0 (7-2); 9 pts
Steve – 3-1 (8-3); 9 pts
Ian – 3-1 (6-3); 9 pts
Arch – 3-2 (8-5); 9 pts
Ben – 2-2 (4-5); 6 pts
Turtle – 1-4 (3-9); 3 pts
Raul – 1-4 (2-8); 3 pts
Jake – 0-2 (1-4); 0 pts

If I were to do anything different, it would be to start the show two hours earlier. If we had done that, I'm pretty sure we would've played all 7 rounds. We didn't follow any certain formula as far as round match-ups are concerned. Everyone kept track of who they played and didn't play and I would get results as the night went on, entering them into a spreadsheet.

The Cube performed well, the packs were mixed well and the only complaint was that nobody played blue! I seriously cannot believe that happened and I'm writing this conclusion three days later. I had my opportunity late in Pack 1, and as soon as I saw those cards show up, I should've changed my approach. I would've ended up with a very solid CounterBurn deck, and, while I was happy with my Aggro deck's performance, the smart money would've been on UR. I was locked into the thinking of three packs of fifteen cards, so opening that fourth pack was a pleasant surprise. I asked the question earlier in this write-up, "How many people actually use the 45th card?" Well, my 44th card was Mana Drain. I still didn't use it – but Good Lord.

Sulfuric Vortex: that card is totally amazing. Every time it resolved, I won, so its power cannot be understated. Remember when I said, "There are just too many enchantments and artifacts that win games when they go unanswered because people always forget to draft the simple cards like this to answer them?" Sulfuric Vortex is one of those cards.

Again, I'd like to throw some love and respect to all the Crew members and their guests for coming to jam the Cube. A very, very special acknowledgement to Steve, who not only came through with roughly two dozen cards to finish the Cube, but also put up some "prizes" for the participants; an autographed artist-proof of a Beta Forest by Christopher Rush (you know, the one that looks like an Magic card but has a plain white back?); an oversized Guardian Beast (that even has the "NOT FOR GAME PLAY" on the back of it—because, you know, you could totally sleeve and shuffle a 6" x 9" promo card) and the prize that Maxx took home, a Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. That'll look nice in that Grixis slot for the Cube, right?

Thanks to everyone who took the time and had the patience to soldier through this. Please, feel free to send me a PM if you have any questions, but if you have any questions about the Cube – please check out MTG Salvation's Cube Forum – there are some really knowledgeable cats there who, at this point, have probably forgotten more about Cubing than I'll ever learn.


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