Pick One, Pack One

Last night I put out a Tweet that got a surprising amount of feedback.

(In case you missed it, this references my new tumblr account, which to date has basically just been screen shots from Holiday Cube 2013.)

My good friend Tom Martell snarked my Cube skillz:

(A tweet that was favorite’d by the normally very nice Thea Steele… Probably Josh Ravitz is rubbing off on her.)

It was great because of all the feedback from…

Noted TCGPlayer and StarCityGames writer Anthony Lowry:

Grand Prix Champion Matt Sperling:

And Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas:

But what I wanted to start a conversation on was the strategic psychology around the pack’s first pick.

For me, I took Lightning Bolt.

Had I not taken Lightning Bolt, I would probably have taken Stoneforge Mystic; my reason there is just that I want to experiment with playing beatdown decks other than RDW [in Cube]. My drivers in taking Lightning Bolt was probably obvious to serious students of Cube archetypes (or anyone who, at least, follows the Top 8 Magic podcast).

Red Deck Wins is my favorite deck to draft in Cube; my reason for this is that, lifetime, I have a sum total of one one-win drafts, and the vast majority of my Cube 3-0s are Red Deck Wins. Simply (at least for me), Red Deck Wins has produced the best results, Cube after Cube.

What I love about this pack is that there are no other red cards. Taking Lightning Bolt here cuts off red to the left, in theory discouraging players from cutting my precious Red Deck cards off from the other direction.

Everything came together in this draft. I successfully cut off the red cards, and ended up with a near-masterpiece:


(I could have probably built my deck a little bit better, but I really liked how the draft went.)

But my original question wasn’t just about what I took. It was about what whoever was reading might have taken.

Given that I was dead-set on Lightning Bolt (and would have taken Stoneforge Mystic second) I was pretty surprised at some of the responses I got.

Limited Resources front-man (and frequent Top 8 Magic guest) Marshall Sutcliffe would have taken Necromancy:

He was joined by Open Series standout Drew Levin:

… Oh, and Jon Finkel:

Is Necromancy THE pick then? It’s hard to argue with Jon… But I know where I want to go in Cube. Usually I force only RDW or Storm… And while Necromancy typically smacks of a “broken” B/U deck, it isn’t Storm.

Further, from Drew:

Tangle Wire is an interesting card that some folks suggested. I am not a huge Tangle Wire guy in Cube, and have cut it from my Red Decks in the past.

How about Mishra’s Workshop?

Mishra’s Workshop and Necromancy have something in common; and kind of common with [my] Lightning Bolt (if not strictly). Lightning Bolt can go in any kind of deck that can cast it. It can go in Red Deck Wins, some kind of control, or as just whatever removal. Lightning Bolt is flexible like that, just as it has contributed to everything from Pyromancer Ascension (combo) to Red Deck Wins (beatdown) to Jund (mid-range) to various blue-based control decks (obv). Caleb Durward once told me he thought Lightning Bolt might be the best red card, ever.

But Mishra’s Workshop and Necromancy go into particular decks. Mishra’s Workhop is not valuable unless you have lots and lots of artifacts. I know I’ve screwed up with various Signets and Time Spiral with Mishra’s Workshop on the battlefield.

Necromancy’s job is to get out the big bigs; Drew’s sevens and eights if you grok. Necromancy can play as an efficiency / value spell… But excels when you get to use cards like Survival of the Fittest or Entomb to put specific powerful creatures in the graveyard. When you take Necromancy, you are going down a certain path. You want to take big guys; you want to pick up resources that will help you dump the big guys into the bin.

And hey! Jon would have taken it.

(But, just so you know, when I take a Lightning Bolt, I am every bit as focused on an archetype as a Mishra’s Workshop- or Necromancy-taker.)

Most interesting to me was that some other notable players would have considered Counterspell:

The aforementioned Open Champion Caleb Durward:

And many-times Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Chris Pikula:

Counterspell?

A few weeks ago Tom Martell gave me an interview for the Mother Ship. One of the things we talked a lot about is what it means to be a good drafter. For my part, I have had runs at GP and Nationals stages that put me in the Top 25 rated drafters in the world (you probably didn’t know that). I did it by forcing U/W and Black decks only. When I qualified for US Nationals a few years ago, I needed to learn to draft… And forced blue decks over and over. I put on 200 points of MTGO rating and won every 8-4 I played for weeks going into Nationals. Needless to say, I didn’t really back up the ratings at Pro Tour or that more recent Nationals.

Interestingly, Tom says that those kinds of results don’t make a good drafter, but a flawed one.

I think my completely discounting Counterspell (and to a lesser degree not understanding some of Drew’s initial arguments around Necromancy) expose maybe a source of success for me in Cube… But also a flaw in my drafting ceiling, at least according to Tom’s model. I just don’t know how to draft a deck that wants Counterspell! What archetype does Counterspell go in?

Counterspell is, of course, Lightning Bolt’s Blue opposite number. But, Lightning Bolt in the abstract; NOT just “my” Lightning Bolt, that is a conceptual stand-in for “Red Deck Wins.”

Just something to think about.

But man, do I love Holiday Cube 2013!

LOVE
MIKE

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