Most players like to read about themselves online, but no one is happy when a Sideboard reporter heads toward their first draft table. There always seems to be one first round draft pod with more than its fair share of talent and if you see a reporter headed your way, that means you got stuck at it. At Pro Tour Yokohama, that pod drafted at table 11:
1 Yusuku Yoshikawa
2 Matt Linde
3 Tsuyoshi Fujita
4 Gabriel Nassif
5 Anthony Ferraro
6 Jeff Cunningham
7 William Jensen
8 Vincent Lemaine
The hometown hero Fujita put up Japan's first top 8 several years ago and finally got some company in that club when Akihiro Kashima turned the trick in Venice. Former US National champion Linde seems like he's been on the Pro Tour gravy train since he was 12. Nassif has been on fire lately, with a Top 8 in Venice and on Thursday he took an Enchantress deck all the way through the Masters Gateway and through to the championship match coming up on Sunday. Jensen was also in the Top 8 in Venice and for him Venice was his second consecutive Top 8. He's feeling confident and seems to be on top of his game. For years people have pointed to him as the next big and this season he finally seems to be delivering on that promise. "Huey" was being fed by Cunningham, who has established himself as one of the most consistently good players on Tour. I watched their drafts.
Huey's draft was pretty straightforward. His first pack had one card that was clearly better than all the others; so he took the Solar Blast, shipping a pack where Mistform Dreamer was probably the best card left. He then picked up the pack that Cunningham started with and there was Lavamancer's Skill staring back at him (alongside Ascending Aven and Prowling Pangolin). Easy easy easy – Huey took the Skill and never departed from the blue-red path. Blue-red was considered the most powerful draft archetype back before Legions came out (and Huey used it to help him get into the Top 8 in Chicago). While it's no longer a clear #1, there are some who point to Echo Tracer as the second best common in Legions (behind Timberwatch Elf) and argue that blue-red is still the best. Meanwhile, everyone agrees that it's still quite good, especially if you get passed a Lavamancer's Skill, especially if you're confident that the guy who passed it to you knows it means you're going to go blue-red and is smart enough to stay out of your colors.
Cunningham took Silklash Spider out of that pack before shipping Huey that Skill. He then got passed a pack with Elvish Warrior, Infest, and Spitting Gourna. This decision was almost as easy as Huey's – Infest is a great card and the deck it works best in is a black-green fatty deck. Cunningham took the Infest and never strayed from the black-green path. This put him in a solid archetype that didn't overlap with Huey either.
The problem with Cunningham's strategy is that each of the three players on his right also went into green. Each was probably hoping to get the all-powerful Timberwatch Elf from Legions, but not one of them wound up with one. I thought Cunningham should have picked up on the fact that green was over-drafted on his right and he could not count on getting much from Legions, but I'm not sure what he could have done about it. (In fact, he may have figured this out, but then stuck to his plan anyway planning to get green out of the second Onslaught pack and then black cards from Legions.) In any case, Cunningham took Nantuko Husk third over Elvish Vanguard. He then took Wirewood Elf fourth over Festering Goblin. He seemed delighted to get Wirewood Herald fifth, but that was the last playable green card he saw in the first set of packs.
Huey's deck wasn't exactly exciting before the second set of Onslaught packs, but all that changed when he busted open a Sparksmith and then got passed a second one. After that he sucked down Skirk Commando times two. Even his late picks were perfect: Mistform Wall and Riptide Biologist are exactly what blue-red wants to be drafting 6th and 8th. In Legions Huey picked up an Imperial Hellkite and a Synapse Sliver early and his deck was in such good shape that he was able to d-draft some of the good white cards that were flowing through him, making sure whoever the one of two white drafters actually were didn't end up with anything ridiculous. 7th pick Primoc Escapee and 9th pick Crested Craghorn didn't hurt him either. All in all Huey's deck looks quite good and he could put himself in great position for a third consecutive Top 8 despite this really tough table.
Cunningham got first pick Grinning Demon
from the second set of Onslaught
packs and then drafted Barkhide Mauler
second. For his third pick he debated long and hard about Elven Riders
versus Vitality Charm
. With zero spells available in Legions
(and several fatties already in his pile of cards) the Charm looked way better than it used to, but he decided it was still not as good as a 3/3 evasion creature for 5. Cunningham then picked up two copies of Wirewood Pride
in an attempt to give his deck some tricks. The problem there was that he only actually had three elves and so he really needed Legions
to hook him up.
Legions did not deliver the goods that Cunningham needed. With each of the three players on his right taking a serious look at the green cards, he got just one playable elf (a 4th pick Patron of the Wild) and one other decent green card (a 3rd pick Enormous Baloth). He did get two Skinthinners with his first two picks and his deck is by no means bad, but it looked to me like it would only be good when he drew Infest. With a table this tough and a deck that didn't work out quite the way he planned it, I'd predict a 2-2 mark for Cunningham.