Winston draft is a funny animal. For as much skill as there is involved knowing when to pass up a card that would be OK for your deck, there is a decent amount of luck of having that Mox or Recall land right in the first pack. You have to know when to continue digging, but Winston is really a no-brainer format a lot of the time—you either want the card or you don’t. Taking the first pack that’s full of maybe playable is not a good play, as you could be passing up a sword in the second pack or a Black Lotus in the third. Digging for bombs is ideal, as settling for mediocre cards when there could be power in the other packs will hurt you in the long run as the other players snap up the hidden gems you miss. There will be times when you single pick a signet or a land, but you want to save that for later when you know what direction you’re going in. Decks will have synergy because the cards in cube naturally allow that to happen, but it’s more coincidental than planned. You could start out by drafting a bunch of sweet creatures, and then run into a Crystal Shard or Recurring Nightmare to streamline your focus. Or you could make it to the end of the draft without any of the cogs for the value machines and instead end up with creatures and a bunch of counters or removal you picked up in packs.
That being said, all three of the decks we (me, Sky, and Kirk) drafted last night were pretty nice. I went 1-1, beating Kirk on some fortunate plays and Sky beating me in three close games.
The Decklist (As always, left to right, top to bottom):
1x Lotus Bloom
1x Swords to Plowshares
1x Ancestral Recall
1x Into the Roil
1x Animate Dead
1x Golgari Signet
1x Azorius Signet
1x Ring of Gix
1x Jace Beleren
1x Vampire Nighthawk
1x Mind Twist
1x Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1x Jace, Memory Adept
1x Bloodgift Demon
1x Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
1x Gilded Lotus
1x Oone, Queen of the Fae
1x Thopter Assembly
1x Grand Colliseum
1x Creeping Tarpit
1x Strip Mine
1x Scalding Tarn
1x Mox Jet
Praetor’s Grasp: This card is an awesome sideboard option, though I would never play it main deck. Against Kirk’s deck, it was fairly useless. I had access to all his white cards with my splash, but the green spells were only castable off signet and Colliseum, and that seemed like a risk I wasn’t willing to take. Against Sky, however, the card was an absolute bomb. Sky’s deck included Grave Titan, Wurmcoil Engine, Myr Battlesphere, and Upheaval as primary Praetor’s Grasp targets. Yowza! Those cards deliver some serious pain. There were a wealth of options to choose from, and I thought pretty hard the first time what to select as all four were thankfully in his deck and not his hand.
In the game I won and the last game I lost, I went for Upheaval both times. The first game Upheaval, so in turn Praetor’s Grasp, won me the game. Sky was about to start going off with some pretty broken Sneak Attack/bounce plays, and I was able to Upheaval with five mana floating with a Mox, signet, and Gilded Lotus hitting the battlefield after the dust settled. I almost didn’t pick the Upheaval, too. For a short amount of the other bombs blinded me. The Praetor’s Grasp was played t2 off of 2 lands and a Mox, and I was worried about getting blown out by Sneak Attack if he did draw those bombs. In my hand was Gilded Lotus, Signet, and two lands, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how awesome Upheaval would’ve been with my soon-to-be board state. If I chose one of the other bombs, there’s a good chance I would’ve lost. He had enough huge creatures and bounce spells that there was no guarantee that I’d keep those creatures; if one of them got Cloudwing Riftskated, that’s pretty much game over.
In the other game where I took the Upheaval, if I lived one turn I probably could have won. With about 7 cards left in his library after running through the Jace gauntlet (I drop Jace Beleren into Jace, Memory Adept in Jace, the Mindsculptor—yes it was really nuts!) I was staring down a board with Myr Battlesphere, a lot of his cronies, and certain death if he could get through my Ob Nixilis that I had on the table. Then, I top decked Praetor’s Grasp, which grabbed the Upheaval he just put back in his deck off a Scroll Rack. It was a gift, but unfortunately he saw the kill with -1 to his own Venser and tapping the 8 Myr guys he had to swing in for 20 with the Battlesphere alone and then another 2 off of a Phyrexian Revoker. If I was able to untap, I could’ve won, but that’s the game.
I would rarely advise main deck Praetor’s Grasp unless you know what you’re facing or you can reliably cast cards in all 5 colors. In a deck you can do that, the card is insanely good; there is usually at least one card in an opponent’s deck that will help you win the game, or at least stop them from doing the same. Most decks run artifacts anyways, and if you come across any deck with a Wurmcoil or Myr Battlesphere then it’s an easy choice and you take it home from there.
Tinker: In this deck, Tinker was not the best choice. Not that it was bad, but at face value the play was pretty boring. Getting either that Wurcoil or Myr Battlesphere would’ve been nice, but instead I was stuck with Triskelion and Thopter Assembly, both fine but unexciting options. It was questionable if the package was even worth including with only those options available. With Tinker, I like to tutor for creatures that consistently win the game, or at least guys that are going to leave an impression on the board. Thopter Assembly is never a guarantee for this, and Triskelion is only good versus decks with a lot of 1 and 2 toughness creatures.
Against Kirk, Triskelion was a work horse. In the two games we played he pretty much helped decide the game for me. In one game I was facing down a Garruk Wildspeaker at 4 loyalty and a Karn at 3. I was able to kill the Karn with a Creeping Tar Pit and attack into Garruk, which he couldn’t block. In another game I had a Vampire Nighthawk on the board stopping his attacks. He took a long time after dropping a Karn to decide what to do, and then decided to -3 him to kill the Nighthawk. On the next turn I played Gilded Lotus, tapped it for three mana and sac’d it, and then Tinkered in Triskelion for a huge tempo gain and probably the eventual win.
But against Sky, Triskelion was essentially useless, which in turn made Tinker useless. He didn’t have enough creatures to make me consistently want to bring in the Triskelion to ping a bunch of little guys. And even when he was playing a lot of his creatures, they were getting snuck in with Sneak Attack, and the creatures that were coming in were Grave Titan, Wurm Coil, Myr Battlesphere, and guys like that. Using Triskelion to chump block and maybe get a few tokens seems pretty subpar, so I decided to make the Praetor’s Grasp switch as I mentioned earlier. I feel like the games could’ve gone either way as our decks matched up well against each other; Sneak Attack is so strong when supported well, and his deck was made to do it. The combination of Battlesphere, Titan and Wurmcoil was nice as they all left little pieces around. Add in a Venser and it’s insane: Sneak in the guy, bounce him with value, and he sticks around and you get double the value. Sphere, Titan, Duplicat…that’s a lot of value.
3 Jaces: Because why not.
Seriously though, 3 Jaces in a deck is pretty awesome; if you get the chance I highly suggest it. This is part of the reason that Winston drafting can be so awesome. Sure, your opponents might be pulling awesome cards out of packs, but it would take a lot of circumstance, chance, and probably ignorance of the other players at the table if during a 4+ man draft you were able to get all three if they were all in the pool, especially considering the power involved. I could’ve had a Jace in each of my packs, but could I have taken any of them over Ancestral Recall? (The answer is always ‘No’.) Memory Adept, or at least Mind Sculptor, would not come back. With Winston, all I have to do is not get complacent with removal and OK cards that would be good for my deck, and instead dig for the cards that are going to help me win.
Out of the three Jaces, I personally think Jace, Memory Adept is the best in most cases. For a lot of people, this is heresy—Jace, Memory Adept better than Jace, The Mind Sculptor? And I used to rank him higher too. This is in no way saying that JTMS is not top tier and on some days I’d still take him over JMA, but that JMA is absolutely nuts. People complain that he doesn’t protect himself, but if you can keep him alive for 2-3 turns, you will typically win the game. There aren’t a lot of cards that aren’t creatures where you can honestly say that’s true, keeping your win condition protection from an edict, wrath, or piece of spot removal. (Vindicate/Maelstrom Pulse excluded.) 10 cards is a lot, and the later you drop him, the better he gets. There are few better top decks late in a grindy game than JMA, as they have to remove him or they lose. JMA is not nearly as good against decks with a heavy graveyard theme, but even then they need to get their guy out and get him to kill you in the 1 or 2 turns they have before there are no cards left in their library. While JTMS will draw you a million cards, JMA will win you the game quickly and efficiently, as long as he stays on the board. In any state where you neutral or ahead, he’s a dagger, and even if you’re behind he can pull you back into the game with the threat of a mill kill, gaining you life off of misdirected attacks to help you draw into some help. I like big spells that drop the boot on the throat quick, and JMA does this job well.
(Is Architecht of Thought good? Other than maybe one game on cockatrice I was kibitzing, I’ve never seen him in action. If you have an opinion one way or another, leave a comment and lemme know.)
Mind Twist: I only drew it one game, and it got Wheel of Fortune’d out of my hand before I could use it for a dismantling amount. Boo.
Skullclamp: This is definitely a questionable Skullclamp deck, but it served as some late game insurance and an early foil. If I ever opened it in my hand, I could drop it turn 1 without missing out on a ton of other t1 plays. My opponents could’ve seen it as a potential problem down the road and killed it; this is not the worst. While my top end guys make tokens to help finish games out, I only had a few creatures earlier on to equip it on. With the ability to Tinker up Thopter Assembly, the Skullclamp gained more relevance as I could Tinker up Assembly, return it to my hand the next turn, and then continue the card advantage with 5 1/1 fliers to eat. It seemed like a more exciting option than Think Twice and more consistent than Terror as my opponents had a good amount of artifact creatures.
Swords to Plowshares: “MonoJace Esper” is pretty loose when the only white card I ran was Swords to Plowshares, but the strength it brought to the deck warranted a push into the realms of three-color identity. I didn’t know how reliable a signet, Grand Colliseum, and Gilded lotus would be to cast the Swords. This was certainly too cautious on my part, as Swords is a pretty great draw at any time. After playing one game without it where I looked at a Genesis that was trying to creep back into the game with turn by turn value, I found room for a plains and took out the Think Twice. Think Twice is OK, but it’s an unexciting card when compared to Swords. Both costs of Think Twice are more than I’d like to pay for one card, and when I compare to to other choices for my decks, there is usually a card that will have more impact for my plays. Two cards off one is certainly nice, and late in games it’s easy to pay the cost, but my deck wasn’t lacking in card advantage.
(Note: the alter was done by seesic/Masamune http://seesic.deviantart.com/)
This wasn’t my best deck ever, but it did some cool stuff and had some sweet stuff in the sideboard. I gained some cautious respect for Praetor’s Grasp, and played some close matches that were a lot of fun.