Opening pack gives me Shapeshifter or Soot with Fathom Seer as the other card in either colour. My gut says Shapeshifter even though black is generally under-drafted. The Squish Test is no good here - sometimes Soot beats Shapeshifter, sometimes it doesn't, the first tie I can remember in 10 years of applying the test.
Second pick is Ixidron, Brine Elemental or Looter. I hate the Looter, and I under-value Brine Elemental because I never seem to be in the right position to use it. I've never played with Ixidron, but it has never impressed me on the other side of the table, likely because my creatures are always so bad that it's a step up!
I go with Ixidron. I get a Riftwing at some point and a late Pentarch Paladin that I'm probably over-valuing. I grab a Gorgon and then hate a Mindstab only to decide in pack two that I'm going to be black-blue because there are no other white cards. I grab a blink as a possible splash and then get passed a BUG Dragon but both end up in my sideboard. As those of you who have read the GP Dallas top 8 coverage (see the Quarterfinals vs. Blackwell), I don't like splashing two forests for a Dragon. I'm still playing plenty of rares with Ixidron, Magus of the Cabal, Nether Traitor, Shapeshifter and Null Profusion (one of my favourite cards). My only removal are two Cradle to Grave, Midnight Charm and Dark Withering.
I'm convinced my deck is not good. I'm playing Deadly Grub, Merfolk Thaumaturgist and Skulking Knight over Timebender and another Grub. Extra points to those of you who notice the combo between Deadly Grub and Ixidron - I know I didn't. The plan was to survive long enough to play one of my many 5-drops (including Stormcloud Djinn and Gorgon but not Evil Eye or Dementia Sliver) and hope to win on, uh, card quality?
Game 1 see early beatdown with a 2/1 and 1/2 backed by Cradle to Grave for both the Sporesower Thallid and Ghost Ship - they are better than I expected. Nether Traitor pinged for a couple before I finally drew a 5th land and used Ixidron to upgrade my guys and downgrade his two Deepwalkers. Now that I have mana, a Magus of the Coffers and Dark Withering allow me to fight through Pongify, Snapback, Utopia Vow and Brine Elemental with a bunch of good spells as backup.
Game 2 has me screaming at the screen again. Do you keep this hand:
Stormcloud Djinn, Cradle to Grave, Skulking Knight, Rightwing Cloudskate, Mindstab, Island, Island?
Of course you don't! Only 9 swamps means you have one action card. You need to draw three lands for the flier and by the time you draw the Swamp you'll likely have other things to do than hold it open for Cradle. And without a Swamp on turn 1, Mindstab gets a lot weaker.
So of course I keep. I'm not bright that way.
Island, Suspend Cloudskate
He taps his five Forests and hits me for five with Weatherseed Totem.
Island, Morphed Aquamorph Entity, Cloudskate the Totem.
He replays the Totem and adds a 4/4 Sporesower.
Island, unmorph the 1/5 and take 5 down to 10.
At this point, there's lots of yelling at the Armoire about how unjust the world is, though admist my rage I do note that he's stuck at 6 Forests and is likely raging at his partner as well.
Island #5 arrives. Unlike before, I'm not sitting on a hand of off-colour spells so I can slap down a relatively unimportant Stormcloud. He then hammers the table with Jedit. If there's any time you want to draw 6 Forests it's when you have Weatherseed Totem and Jedit.
Luckily, I have Ixidron. His 4/4 and 5/5 become measely 2/2s that can only look on in wistful envy at my 5/5 blue illusion.
I'm at 10. He attacks with his two morphs and 5/3 trampler into my one un-tapped morph and a 5/5 blocker hoping to trade his two morphs for my morph and Ixidron. I craftily see through it and only block one of the morphs with Ixidron. Oh wait, didn't he have Strenght in Numbers last game?
He did. And he does. Except, inexplicably, he concedes instead. I chase after him in the chat room and apparently he got so locked into trading a morph and Strength for my 5/5 Ixidron and knocking me to 3 that he missed just playing it on the unblocked creatures for the win. He then suddenly realized I had 9 power hitting back with the Aquamorph and was so frustrated about having a hand of off-colour cards that he quit in frustration.
Important lesson to the kids - never go on tilt. Especially against me - I may not have even seen the play!
So I get a gift win and I'm in to the second round. But this is 8-4, I know how this ends - with a loss in game 3 and crying into my drink.
Round 2, Game 1:
Do you keep this hand:
Gorgon Recluse, Ixidron, Mana Skimmer, Cradle to Grave, Island, Swamp, Swamp?
Of course you don't! The only spell you can play is reactive and may be useless. Two of your spells require two additional lands, and neither turns the game around. What are you thinking?
No idea. I know I kept, but I'm a sucker that way.
Three turns later I haven't drawn a fourth land and he Psychotic Episodes me. He has a choice of the Island on top of my deck, or the cards in my opening hand plus Mystical Teachings and Midnight Charm. He agonizes over this one for a while and I can't help but empathize. Of course, I'm also ranting at the monitor (the Armoire has wisely vacated at this point) about how if it's not LD, it's pseudo-LD via weird discard spells. I figure if he takes the Island, I'm screwed, but try to console myself that I always seem to draw lands in clumps, so maybe this is a good thing...
He takes the skimmer. I draw the Island and Teachings for Think Twice when he doesn't play anything. Teachings for Think Twice is not what you want to be doing, but my deck just didn't have good targets and a 3/1 flyer against Black-Red didn't seem optimal.
Another land puts the Gorgon in play against his Basal Sliver and suddenly this game is looking like a really interesting control match where I'm playing blue (so I win). He takes 2-3 minutes to plan out his next few turns and I eventually Teachings again for the Crookclaw and play it.
He slaps down Endrek Sahr. That's not good, especially if he was thinking a lot - it means he's optimizing the math. Ironically, I would have taken Endrek but I wasn't definitely in black at that point. I may have even taken the Crookclaw over it. He then uses Basal Slivers very aggressively to quickly bring out 11 thrulls.
The problem is that Ixidron is now useless as I don't want to turn the 1/1s into 2/2 morphs. Except, of course, that I'm an idiot and Ixidron doesn't affect tokens. Sigh...
Rule #2 - Read the cards in your hand. Moron.
I'm desperate to get Null Profusion in play and hopefully draw lots of blockers, but he Charms the 3/1 and it only takes two turns to beat me down.
So much for my control match advantage.
Game 2 and the usual question, would you keep this hand?
Nether Traitor, Mystical Teachings, Dark Withering, Island, Swamp, Swamp.
Of course you don't! You have a measly 1/1 threat and then no active plays until turn 5 at best. The Withering may even be a dead card (I already sideboarded out one of the Cradles for lack of targets).
So of course I keep. It had three lands, at this point I'm willing to sacrifice small children for any hand that has more than two but less than five lands.
Turn two Traitor, turn three suspend Mindstab and play Trickster face-up. How very convenient! I Teachings for Think Twice and then he makes his first error - he Orcish Cannonades the Traitor and then Charms the Trickster, allowing me to get the Traitor back. Not so good.
I'm struggling for a 5th land against Syphon-Mage and Spitting Sliver but luckily he's willing to trade the Mage for my off-the-top Mana Skimmer. He slaps down two more gray ogres (Channeler and another Mage) before Mindstab strips him of Soot and Tendrils. Ouch.
I then draw my fifth land and turn everybody into a morph. One of the best things about 1/1 shadow guys is when they turn into 2/2 blockers. He Soots my morph and trades a 2/2 and Riftbolt for my Gorgon, following it up with Basal sliver. But I slap down the almightly Grub and Think a second time into Cloudskate. The Traitor comes back when the Grub dies and the Cloudskate buys me the tempo I need to easily win it with three cards back to his none.
Game 3, where I traditionally lose it in gruesome fashion.
I of course keep my opening hand. But this time it's the right decision - Pit Keeper, Aphamorph, Null Profusion, Midnight Charm, two Swamps and an Island. Keeper, Grub, Morph and Charm on a Two-Headed Sliver means my first four turns are juicy. Turn five Riftwing puts him at 8 with only four lands in play while turn six sees my grub grow up into a Deadly Insect, which was actually annoying because it meant I missed out on 3 points of damage. Fury Sliver on the other side stops the Insect but I had waited a turn to play Null Profusion so I had two cards in hand.
He attacks me down to 13 with the Fury Sliver despite being at 4 life and facing a 2/2 flier and a 6/1 un-targetable. This is not good news - it means he's got something really good. Sure enough, Battering Sliver now gives him 14 points of trampling damage on-board versus my not-so-Deadly Insect. Luckily my draft MVP Ixidron had been drawn last turn so all is well as he and the Insect hold off the morphs while the Riftwing flies to victory!
That's right, VICTORY!
The guy in the finals split and my last three packs turned into six so I can draft once again.
What did I learn?
1) I should get paid to write these. "Drafting with Rich" my ass!
2) Nether Traitor isn't horrible. And it feels like sticking it to your opponent every time you bring it back.
3) Ixidron is very good in a deck with lots of weak creatures. It's also particularly good against Slivers. AND it doesn't affect tokens - don't forget that.
4) Magus of the Coffers is excellent for being a 4/4 for five mana in black.
5) The Gorgon is better than I've been thinking. I always used to play Basilisk, why do I keep thinking the Gorgon is only good for Madness?
6) Cradle to Grave is a hit. I'm playing them from now on.
7) Deadly Grub isn't that bad. It's got an efficient power/toughness ratio. It's not amazing, but I wouldn't be too ashamed to play it. I only wish I'd had a chance to get the Skulking Knight out and see what would have happened.
8) I spend more time writing these up than actually playing them. My admiration to any that actually made it through all of these!