Going into the draft we had 10 players which meant splitting the group into 2 seperate 5 player pods by random die roll. If the truth be told I'm not exactly fond of 5 player pods because of the crazy decks they often produce. With only 5 picks between each pack fully tabling it's far too easy to get strong color reads on your opponents very early in pack 1 which in turn leans to more focused synergistic decks all around the table. Additionally when there's only 5 players picking at the table it tends to significantly magnify any mistakes made by less experienced drafters as the "ridiculous" cards that shouldn't have been passed tend to be concentrated into the other 2-3 more experienced players decks. In fact I would be lying if I said I didn't feel that happened in this draft and I benefited from some curious passes on both sides. Unfortunately the other option in this situation is to draft with 10 people around 1 table which is actually worse in my mind to the point of almost not being a draft; randomly picking the best card passed to me with no strategy for tabling future picks feels way too much like sealed for my liking.
Sitting down to build the deck out of my draft pool was actually pretty easy once I got a look at the cards; the only real question in my mind was how many card slots to devote to the Infect sub-theme and after deciding the answer was not many this is the deck I entered the tournament with:
"Gruul Summer" - R/G Dinosaurs w/Infect
Creatures - 14:
1x Death-Hood Cobra
2x Razor Swine
2x Fallen Ferromancer
1x Ogre Menial
1x Phrexian Metamorph
1x Tormentor Exarch
1x Etched Monstrosity
1x Moltensteel Dragon
3x Thundering Tanadon
1x Chancellor of the Forge
Spells - 9:
1x Glissa's Scorn
1x Beast Within
2x Sickleslicer (really creatures)
1x Sword of War and Peace
4x Volt Charge
Overview: Okay so obviously you don't need me to tell you that a deck with 3 Tanadons, 4 Volt Charges and a mythic Sword is awesome. What's really interesting to me however is the way it seamlessly blends an early game Infect/Control strategy with a late game Dinosaur Stompy finish. Typically I would start out each game on the poison path with a Razor Swine and one of my 3 equipment cards. This in turn would force my opponent to start spending his removal to eliminate my Infect threats and thus making it much easier for me to stick a dinosaur or two in the mid/late game. Naturally of course my opponent could choose to ignore the poison damage and save his removal for real threats but then they risked the very real possibility of losing to Fallen Ferromancer or the proliferate effect on Volt Charge as the game wore on. While typically I am not fond of hybrid poison/damage strategies the simple truth is I had so much excellent removal and so many amazing finishers that the 5 Infect cards in the build functioned simply as a time/enegry sink for my opponent at no real loss of efficiency for me.
this article. Fittingly the finals paired me up against a player who had also opened "the nuts"; namely a Batterskull which he drew every single game. This is not to say that my opponent's deck was poor in any way however; Arthur is a veteran drafter in our local playgroup and is well known for making pretty solid blue control decks regardless of pack composition. This time he was rocking green as well but his deck was primarily all about Islands, control spells and flying plus the aforementioned Batterskull. This was not to be Arthur's day however as every single time he dropped the Skull I had the removal for it immediately; I even managed to *kill" the Skull 5 separate times in game 2 when my opponent kept leaving 3 mana open to bounce it back to his hand in response. Despite both games being close I eventually prevailed behind waves of giant Dinosaurs and managed to escape the evening with my rating intact.
- Dinosaurs are even better than normal in this format because it's slower and so much of the removal is artifact based. Giant non-artifact bodies with useful abilities dominated a significant number of games in this draft both during my matches and during those around me. This doesn't mean you should avoid house artifact creatures like Thundering Tanadon and Porcelain Legionnaire but it's now more important than ever to have 2-4 "big bodies" that don't go down to a Shatter effect in your deck because with 3 packs of NPH it's gonna seem like the Glissa's Scorns and Gremlin Mines are everywhere.
- Infect is not a decktype so much as a theme and should be drafted accordingly. While it's certainly true that there are a number of amazing poison cards in NPH and a significant number of games around me were won by poison I didn't get the impression that traditional B/G Infect aggro was still a viable decktype in this format. For one thing the Infect trait is spread out over all 5 colors and there aren't enough good poisonous artifacts to cover up the gap. Black for example has virtually no quality commons with the Infect trait and unless you open a Reaper of Sheoldred it's highly unlikely you'll end up in poison out of this color. Presumably the Pestilent Souleater is supposed to cover up this gap but in practice it's basically the worst Scourge Servant ever; a card that was itself pretty marginal in previous Infect builds this arc. Green doesn't fair much better in my eyes with it's best Infect common being the 1/1 Glistener Elf who is so far being *criminally* overdrafted on tables I'm playing at. Naturally this doesn't make all infect cards bad; I saw a number of games won on the back of Viral Drakes, Triumph of the Hordes, Fallen Ferromancers and the occasional Shriek Raptor but all 3 of the players who forced straight aggro Infect decks in this draft were highly disappointed with the final results. At this moment the only truly viable infect strategy I see in the format is U/B control with proliferate effects; Kelly was 2-0 with a similar idea before dropping from the tournament and after watching the end of his 2nd round I felt the deck-type was pretty solid.
- Equipment is incredibly scare in this format unless you open good rares/mythics which in turn hurts both the Infect and Skies deck archetypes at least slightly. Quite literally the only stat boosting gear in this format that isn't R/M is Sickleslicer and scarcity alone means you probably aren't going to be passed this card very often. This may not seem particularly significant at first but I assure you it will become more relevant the first time you pass an attack phase with multiple "bears" in play because your opponent has a Spire Monitor on the table.
- Phrexian Mana is very powerful but also very dangerous. While it's certainly tempting to throw down 3/1 first strikers and 5/4 tramplers as soon as possible failing to properly manage your life total while doing so can be fatal. Due to the lack of "true Infect" decks generally you're going to want to actually be able to cast your spells without losing life eventually in virtually every match-up you play. For example I won a number of games in this draft simply by playing for a draw while my opponents spent 2-8 life rapidly flooding the board with their Phyrexian mana critters, only to have me kill their monsters before they could really take advantage of it. In a way this allowed me to generate numerous 2 for 1 scenarios by getting in 2-4 points of damage as if I had cast creatures early while still letting me safely destroy my opponent's monsters. Used early and in moderation this mechanic is obviously very powerful but don't go loading up your deck with 18 ways to lose 2 life if you expect to win in 3x NPH drafts.