October 7, 2015

Image Credit:

Dollar Pack Draft

Drafting old cards is probably my favourite thing in magic. Unfortunately out-of-print booster packs get more expensive every year, and since nobody in my playgroup wants to pay $60+ for a draft (including me) the best case for drafting old cards is usually a mixed-booster draft with a couple packs from older sets. There are of course budget alternatives: cube is an easy solution, and having people create their own packs for a draft is also plausible, but neither alternative has the element of surprise that comes with unopened booster packs. For the budget conscious drafter of out-of-print cards, only the “dollar pack” has the potential to deliver an affordable and (nearly) authentic drafting experience.

I confess that until recently my experience with dollar packs was very limited. I’ve known about them for years, but never actually seen a pack for sale, let alone purchased one. One guy in my playgroup used them for an ante-league (the ultimate cheap out) and another brought some once for pack wars. Neither experience suggested it would be a good idea to draft them as the ante league deck had a number of non-english cards, while the pack wars duel was almost entirely commons from standard-legal sets. However, when I saw that the Wizard’s Tower had repackaged some of their bulk cards into dollar packs, it seemed likely that these issues would be resolved and that the dollar-pack draft might work. I put the idea out to my playgroup and was able to drum up enough interest for a 12-player, 4-round, 4-pack draft.
Here’s how it went:

THE DRAFT

The Wizard’s Tower dollar packs consist of 10 cards (1 rare, 3 uncommon, 6 common), so we agreed to draft 4 packs rather than 3. This would result in a pool of 40 cards per player, compared to a normal booster draft of 42 cards. I’ve also always been a fan of 4-pack draft since drafting in each direction an equal number of times just feels more logical.

We randomized seating in a single 12-player pod and unsleeved our first packs. I had worried about the packs being full of unplayable cards, so it was an immediate relief to see a mix of creatures, removal, and even a bomb rare in Consuming Aberration. I took the aberration and followed it up with a pick two Esper Battlemage and pick three Feed the Pack. The card quality mostly disintegrated from there, but it set the tone of what kind of cards we were likely to see in the rest of the boosters.

The picks I made in the first pack put me on the path to dimir or sultai, but this plan was more or less obliterated by a pack 2 pick 1 Fireball followed by a Revel of the Fallen God and then a very late Vulshok Sorcerer. My parade into red continued with a pack 3 pick 1 Clickslither and a couple of bad red removal spells like Torrent of Fire (but hey – removal is removal right?). No sooner did a gruul deck look like an option with a late Farseek, than pack 4 greeted me with a first pick Butcher of Malakir putting black back on the table. With all the red from packs two and three and my initial focus on black and blue, I decided to try and force Grixis through pack four with a high pick Fire-Field Ogre and River’s Grasp.

The Deck
As I sorted my pool I discovered that aside from the two dimir cards and one grixis card, I had only drafted two other playable blue cards. So much for “forcing grixis”. While not getting to use the Consuming Aberration was a disappointment, there was really no choice but to play Jund and leave my first overall pick on the sidelines. With the deck construction clock ticking down I sleeved up this 18 land Jund monstrosity:

Dollar Pack Jund

Creatures (13)
Infernal Caretaker
Vulshok Sorcerer
Lumithread Field
Flamewave Invoker
Krark-Clan Stoker
Deadly Grub
Ordruun Commando
Ironroot Treefolk
Thundercloud Shaman
Scourge Devil
Keeper of Tresserhorn
Butcher of Malakir
Revel of the Fallen God

Spells (9)
Farseek
Yoke of the Damned
Wild Hunger
Refresh
Blessing of Leeches
Acceptable Losses
Torrent of Fire
Feed the Pack
Fireball

Lands (18)
Mountain
Forest
Swamp

Notice the complete lack of 1 and 2 drops? In the last 2 packs I tried to actively pick some cheap creatures, but Orcish Spy and Soldevi Sentry ultimately looked worse than basic lands. Notice that of my 3 drops one is a morph I literally can’t unmorph, another is a morph I have no reason to ever unmorph, and another has an activated ability I have no way of activating? How about that four mana 4/1 with an ability I can’t use? “Dollar Pack Delivers”!


A dollar-pack-draft staple

Despite the embarrassingly bad low-end of my curve, I was confident that my finishers would win games. It stood to reason that if I couldn’t find cheap bodies in the four colours I had drafted, others probably struggled with the low end of the curve as well. The decision to play the 22 cards I did was certainly bolstered by the lack of any realistic alternative in the sideboard.

sideboard/unplayed

Sideboard (18)
Circling Vultures
Orcish Spy
Clickslither
Decomposition
Soldevi Sentry
Ark of Blight
Kormus Bell
Morbid Bloom
River’s Grasp
Consuming Aberration
Fire-Field Ogre
Esper Battlemage
Cut the Tethers
Thoughtweft Gambit
Karma
Loxodon Mystic
Fountain of Cho
Metal Fatigue

Round 1: 2-1 Win vs Jeskai Tempo

Game one of the event proved my genius plan was indeed genius. My deck did exactly what I wanted it to do by curving a morph into Ordruun Veteran into Ironroot Treefolk and then topped it off with Revel of the Fallen God on turn 7. The Veteran traded early on, and the tokens were eaten up over two turns by bounce spells and blocks, but the morph and treefolk kept pounding through for lethal. Brilliance! I broke the format! Or maybe just on to game 2…

Game two revealed that I was wrong about the availability of low end creatures. My opponent curved Pteron Ghost into Amrou Seekers into Keeneye Aven presenting a tonne of evasive pressure. I missed my third land drop and played Yoke of the Damned on the seekers, hoping to draw a second mountain and then use Vulshok Sorcerer on the Ghost to clean the board up a bit. Turn 4 saw the arrival of my third land, unfortunately it was a swamp, and the morph I played was irrelevant given the board state (if only colourless could block intimidate!). Another turn of missed land drop and it was “so much for 18 lands of consistency” and onto the tiebreaker.

Game three saw my opponent play a turn two Hada Spy Patrol and level it up on turn 3. I met this with a morph, and then a turn 5 Ironroot Treefolk was countered by a Put Away. Several bounce spells and blockers later, Butcher of Malakir resolved and enabled a 7 point Torrent of Fire to the face putting her down to 4 life. The Spy Patrol clocked me all the way down to 4 life before an Acceptable Losses finally ended the reign of terror. She was stuck on 5 lands with a fistful of cards, and just kept spending each turn dropping flying chump blockers, preventing the butcher from dealing lethal. Eventually a Vulshok Sorcerer resolved and pinged himself forcing her to sacrifice that turn’s blocker and butcher crashed in for lethal. She revealed Ghostfire in hand. Thank you 4th lifepoint and 4th toughness!

Round 2: 1-2 Loss vs Abzan

Game one was a wash as I mulliganed to 5, missed a land drop, and then played a Flamewave Invoker and a face down Lumithread Field. Meanwhile in actual-magic-playing-land, my opponent has put a 2/3 Aven Trailblazer out, flashed in an Affa Guard Hound to block my invoker, and then pumped the aven to 4/5 with an Armament Corps. Not close.

Game two went more or less the other way. I curved the invoker into a morph and this time he had no turn 2 or 3 plays. He starts playing small creatures but Scourge Devil and Thundercloud Shaman come down for extra fat while Fireball and Torrent of Fire in hand mean even if it looked close, it really wasn’t.

Game three he opens with Pteron Ghost and Obsidian Battle-Axe to my Flamewave Invoker. I expect him to equip the axe on turn 4, and then I’ll fireball the ghost on my turn 4 for a very modest tempo gain. Instead he plays Razor Golem– not only an excellent equip target with vigilance, but also actively protected by the ghost’s sacrifice effect (constructed level synergy)! Changing gears, I’m forced to fireball the ghost just to make the golem killable. He equips and swings for 5. I Yoke of the Damned the golem and play a morph. He takes the 2-for-1 swinging into my morph. Aven Trailblazer returns as the next axe-wielding threat, but Torrent of Fire stops that noise before it starts. Things look salvageable for me as I resolve a Keeper of Tresserhorn and still have my invoker for late game 8 mana lava axes. Instead, Eater of Hope falls from the sky and eats all my hope, smashing my face in one flying hit with that overpowered battle axe.

Round 3: 1-2 Loss vs Dimir Value

I started game one with a surprisingly aggressive curve of Deadly Grub into a morph and then Scourge Devil– lining up exceptionally well against his turn 3 Forbidden Alchemy. A mid-combat Wild Hunger provides great value on his first block, but he soon stabilizes at 7 life thanks to a Rathi Trapper and a heavily-delved Death Rattle. At 6 mana he taps out for a 4/4 Nightmare, losing the tap ability of the trapper for a turn. With wild hunger in the graveyard my devil and morph represent lethal, and he’s forced to block with the nightmare immediately and still drop to 3 life. The following turn he Vapor Snare’s my tapped morph and then makes the fateful decision to attack me with the trapper, commenting that he doesn’t think I have haste and needs to deal some damage. The unearthed devil (cough haste) attacks past the tapped morph and trapper for a rather undeserved win.

Game two saw a parade of awkward board states and interactions. He opened with Death’s-Head Buzzard which invalidated my plan of turn 3 Vulshok Sorcerer, so I played a morph instead. He then plays Putrid Cyclops scrying away the top card and revealing Strongarm Tactics. I miss my land drop and swing hoping he blocks the morph with the cyclops – he does, and a fireball on the buzzard provides a board wipe and some breathing room. He smiles and plays Mirror-Mad Phantasm (“I wanted that buzzard dead!”) and then I smile and play the Vulshok Sorcerer (“so did I!”). Good times all around, but I am stuck on 3 lands with no green mana for an unholy number of turns and in the end despite my excellent answer to the phantasm some morphs and a Grixis Slavedriver put me out of my misery.

Game three starts off poorly as I mulligan to five. His turn 2 Distress takes my Fireball. I play my morph, he responds with Death’s-Head Buzzard. He doesn’t trade with the morph so I put my sideboarded Decomposition on the buzzard and pass – he lets it die and loses two life. Then the most unholy sequence of the night takes place as he casts Strongarm Tactics and discards Nightshade Assassin triggering madness, while I discard mountain and take 4 (keeping Wild Hunger). I expect the full blowout of the assassin trigger killing my morph, but he declines to reveal any cards saying its “not enough”. Once it was safely my turn again, I pointed out that the buzzard death trigger had already put my morph down to a 1/1 and a single black card would have done the trick. This time his play error was not to lead me to victory, as a Mirror-Mad Phantasm makes a mockery of my morph and safely puts the game away.

Round 4: 2-0 Win vs Boros “Aggro”

Game one is a short-lived affair that sees her turn two Pteron Ghost (most commonly drafted card of the night) and turn three Samite Censer-Bearer overpowered by my pair of morphs, treefolk, and a 2-for-1 fireball.

In game two she curves out two Pteron Ghosts into Sanctum Gargoyle. The ghosts allow the gargoyle to block my Wild Hunger’d Flamewave Invoker and live to tell the tale, but I curve on into Ironroot Treefolk and Keeper of Tresserhorn. She almost makes a game of it with Glamer Spinners and Pitfall Trap to clear away the 3/5 and 6/6 (even through wild hunger flashback!), but just as she’s stabilizing Butcher of Malakir appears to butcher any chance of a comeback.

So the night ended for me with a 2-2 result for 7th place – not the result I wanted, but probably the one I deserved. The winning deck was grixis, second place was the Abzan deck I played in round 2 and third place was the UB deck I played in round 3.

Parting Thoughts
The draft itself was decent, although any cards that were conditionally good (e.g. tribal cards, Esperzoa) were hard to evaluate. I didn’t gamble on any of them, but you never know if someone could have pulled off the nut cleric+zombie deck. The colours and sets were reasonably balanced throughout the packs. Mana fixing was scarce, and most players stuck with 2 colours or a high land count and 3 colours.

In terms of matches, only two of them went to time so there was enough removal, evasion, and finishers that games usually reached a timely conclusion. There were some neat synergies, but many of the games were simply decided by bomb rares. In fact most of the rares were limited bombs including a Stormtide Leviathan, Pentavus, and Reaper of the Wilds. We had one mythic in our pool that was also pretty strong for the format in Mirror-Mad Phantasm.

All in all the format was about what I expected, although there were fewer 4th edition era cards than I would have liked. Not something I’d recommend for a weekly magic event, but an entertaining novelty to run a couple times a year. I actually did a second 8 player dollar pack draft more recently and we were all a bit disappointed with the encore. Virtually all of the packs were full of cards from Dragons of Tarkir, with only the rares coming from other sets. I guess the contents of the dollar packs depends on what kind of collections have been purchased recently by the store as they don’t actually build these with drafting in mind. To hedge against this I’d recommend making some number of dollar packs yourself and mixing those with the store-bought packs. Just follow the formula of 1 rare, 3 uncommons, and 6 commons, and it should ensure a fun (and cheap!) draft experience.

Until next time, respect the power of the Gray Ogre!