s Two-Headed Giant a format about a team's skills, or simply a team's opens? That is a question many pundits have loudly asked, arguing that the format features decks which are too broken because each team gets "twelve first picks" (referencing the fact that each team takes two cards from each of six packs that they open).
But is that the case? During Draft 5 on the second day of competition at Pro Tour-San Diego, we set out to see. One pod immediately jumped to our attention: Pod 3. The teams at the table? Jon Finkel/Josh Ravitz, Ruud Warmenhoven/Quentin Martin, Jon Sonne/Mike Thompson, and Craig Krempels/Sam Gomersall. The latter team had just come off a pod in which they opted to try the Slivers strategy Lachmann/van Lunen have been doing so well with over the weekend, and during the draft coverage yesterday, Jon Finkel and Josh Ravitz demonstrated their willingness to highly pick cards other players might not bat an eyelash at like Dream Stalker and Grave Scrabbler.
For the sake of the experiment, we recorded each pick the teams made during their first pack of a set, and this is what things looked like in Time Spiral:
Finkel/Ravitz: Errant Ephemeron, Might Sliver
Warmenhoven/Martin: Cancel, Thrill of the Hunt
Krempels/Gomersall: Errant Ephemeron, Ith, High Arcanist
Sonne/Thompson: Grapeshot, Stronghold Overseer
Finkel/Ravitz: Sudden Shock, Temporal Isolation
Warmenhoven/Martin: Castle Raptors, Greater Gargadon
Krempels/Gomersall: Celestial Crusader, Volcanic Awakening
Sonne/Thompson: Strangling Soot, Errant Ephemeron
The initial picks proved to be quite interesting. The Finkel/Ravitz duo didn't find themselves with a bomb rare in their first crack at Time Spiral, and instead opted to take a solid common in Errant Ephemeron and a bit of a surprise in Might Sliver. It was just 24 hours prior that they had actually eschewed that same card, then a Telekinetic Sliver afterwards, in favor of solid non-Slivers. Would they force the archetype at the table in spite of the fact Krempels/Gomersall had just done exactly that? Could one pod support TWO Sliver teams?
In any case, their second booster of Time Spiral failed to yield any true bombs as well, but they didn't seem disappointed to take Sudden Shock and Temporal Isolation. Through the first two packs, then, Finkel and Ravitz were given solid commons and uncommons but no broken rares in either the regular rare slot or the purple slot.
Ruud Warmenhoven and Quentin Martin were in the same boat with their first pack of Time Spiral. After flipping through the cards, they found the popular Cancel up to snuff, but their other pick was Thrill of the Hunt, something that might catch many off guard. The instant gets better in 2HG where it can often provide much sought-after card advantage during combat or counter a removal spell like Rift Bolt, but seeing it as a first pick during pack one? Ruud and Quentin didn't even hesitate.
They also didn't take much time deciding on Castle Raptors and Greater Gargadon in their second pack of Time Spiral. The Gargadon might be a card some would call a bomb, but the Castle Raptors were simply another solid-but-manageable threat few would deride as being overly powerful.
Former U.S. Nationals champ Craig Krempels and Sam Gomersall did start their draft off with a certifiable bomb: Ith, High Arcanist. Their backup choice supplemented it nicely and they echoed the Finkel/Ravitz pick from the pack by nabbing Errant Ephemeron. Their second Time Spiral booster didn't have a bomb in the rare spot, but arguably had one in Volcanic Awakening as an uncommon. They happily took it, then nabbed a Celestial Crusader to prepare putting together a white deck. Other teams apparently didn't agree with the Crusader as a first pick, however, and they found themselves offered up a shot at a second a few picks later.
The final team at the table, Jon Sonne and Mike Thompson, also opened up with a bomb: Stronghold Overseer. That's one creature that can seriously control the flow of an entire match, and their support pick of Grapeshot was strong as well. In their second pick they got two prominent commons popular in regular Time Spiral booster draft as well as the 2HG format: Strangling Soot and Errant Ephemeron.
Finkel/Ravitz: Dead // Gone, Pyrohemia
Warmenhoven/Martin: Dead // Gone, Torchling
Krempels/Gomersall: Rough // Tumble, Frozen Aether
Sonne/Thompson: Prodigal Pyromancer, Veiling Oddity
Finkel/Ravitz: Erratic Mutation, Whitemane Lion
Warmenhoven/Martin: Prodigal Pyromancer, Brute Force
Krempels/Gomersall: Shaper Parasite, Rough // Tumble
Sonne/Thompson: Cradle to Grave, Volcano Hellion
Moving into Planar Chaos, Sonne and Thompson repeated their pick style from the second Time Spiral pack by selecting commons Prodigal Pyromancer and Veiling Oddity over the other commons, uncommons, and rares in their booster. Certainly solid picks, but definitely not on par with the power of their Stronghold Overseer. Their second Planar Chaos pack gave them a card that was, however: Volcano Hellion. That was supplemented with Cradle to Grave, and Jon and Mike looked to be 2 and 2. They had opened two packs with bombs and two packs with commons, and they were evenly walking the line in the argument of bombs versus consistency.
Krempels and Gomersall were blessed with two solid uncommons in their first Planar Chaos pack: Rough // Tumble and Frozen Aether. The Aether, widely considered a chaff pick under normal drafting circumstances, is actually much better in Two-Headed Giant as it effects both opponents equally, firmly pushing tempo in the favor of the players casting it. Rough // Tumble is a popular pick whether you're battling with a teammate or simply one person in an 8-person draft, but it's a bit of a stretch to call it a "bomb" in the traditional sense. Sure, it can certainly turn games around or put them far out of reach of your opponent's grasp, but it does do just 2 damage to all creatures on the ground (or 6 to those in the air).
…unless you have two of them, of course, and Craig and Sam managed to swing exactly that, opening up a second copy of the split card in their second pack of Planar Chaos. Their final "first pick" from Planar Chaos would be the solid Shaper Parasite, and it looked like they had used up their bomb selection with the Ith from their Time Spiral booster.
The next set of players we monitored also opted for a red split card for their first pick from Planar Chaos, but it wasn't Rough // Tumble hitting the deck pile for Ruud Warmenhoven and Quentin Martin. Instead, they took the common Dead // Gone. Their rare offered up Torchling, and after some consideration they determined the pseudo-Morphling was satisfactory enough to make the cut into their pile. But is the 3/3 a bomb?
To find out, I spoke with former U.S. National Champion Antonino De Rosa and St. Louis native J.P. Smee. Both were competitors at the Pro Tour this weekend, and were locking horns in a head-to-head matchup during a side draft.
Me: "Is Torchling a bomb in 2HG draft?"
De Rosa and Smee, simultaneously: "No."
Smee: "…not even close."
Smee explained that in 2HG it was difficult to have a base-red deck because the color's best cards were high picks no matter what you were playing, but that the color's average cards were too weak to support a full deck. De Rosa chimed in to point out that the card could seem like a bomb if you built the appropriate deck around it, but that because there were two player's worth of creatures in play, you couldn't effectively use the provoke ability of the card-your opponent's teammate would likely have additional creatures to put in front of the Shapeshifter, ensuring its demise.
In any case, Smee's assertion that it was hard to draft a base-red deck due to the high selection percentage of red's marquee cards seemed true. Supplementing their first Planar Chaos pick of two red cards, Ruud and Quentin followed them up in pack two with… two more red cards! There were no rares for them this time, and they were left with Prodigal Pyromancer and Brute Force.
Jon Finkel and Josh Ravitz did find what many consider to be a 2HG bomb in their first Planar Chaos pack: Pyrohemia. The card quickly hit their playables pile, and they were happy to nab a Dead // Gone as well, making two player sets drafting all red cards during their first pack of PC. The first-pick red would end there for them, however, as they opted for Erratic Mutation and Whitemane Lion in their second pack.
Finkel/Ravitz: Scourge of Kher Ridges, Arc Blade
Warmenhoven/Martin: Ichor Slick, Sprout Swarm
Krempels/Gomersall: Sprout Swarm, Flowstone Embrace
Sonne/Thompson: Festering March, Fatal Attraction
Finkel/Ravitz: Coalition Relic, Sprout Swarm
Warmenhoven/Martin: Llanowar Empath, Sporoloth Ancient
Krempels/Gomersall: Riddle of Lightning, Judge Unworthy
Sonne/Thompson: Death Rattle, Foresee
In Future Sight we start with Jon Finkel and Josh Ravitz, who moved right back into double red first picks. However, with a dragon in their rare slot it's not too hard to see why. Arc Blade is no slouch itself, though certainly not as good as a potential Rough // Tumble each turn. Their second pack is a bit more tame with the popular Sprout Swarm, a common, and Coalition Relic. The Relic is technically a rare, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone on the premises calling it anything other than a role player. Presumably Jon and Josh wanted it to make sure their Slivers of all colors made it into play with no problems.
Ruud and Quentin kicked off their Future Sight portion of the draft with two of the commons many people consider top tier, in 2HG or not: Ichor Slick and the aforementioned Sprout Swarm. Both are very strong and first-pick caliber, so it's easy to jump to the conclusion that because the draft is 2HG, the players get to take both of the "first picks" instead of only one, as they would in a normal TPF draft. It's important to keep in mind, however, that such packs, with two "first picks" in them, exist around the table. Consider the applications of two players opening Ichor Slick and Sprout Swarm sitting next to each other in an 8-person draft. One of those players gets to wind up with both anyway!
Adding to the complexity of the situation is the fact that even though Quentin and Ruud got to draft both, they may or may not go into the same deck, meaning they could be stealing "first picks" from themselves. If they were a blue-black and a green-red-white deck, for example, they would have taken a card for each deck, but certainly not for both.
Their second pack was solid if not exciting, offering up Llanowar Empath and Sporoloth Ancient.
Yet another Sprout Swarm made the cut as a first pick for Krempels and Gomersall, who took it in conjunction with a Flowstone Embrace. Their second pack of Future Sight gave them two more common first picks in Riddle of Lightning and Judge Unworthy, and it seems like commons are some of the most popular first picks in the format.
Finally we had Jon Sonne and Mike Thompson's oxymoronical last first picks. They opted to shore up a heavy black deck with Festering March first in conjunction with Fatal Attraction, then took Death Rattle and Foresee in their final pack.
So, what's the verdict? Overall the players first-picked 31 commons, 10 uncommons, and just 7 rares. Certainly some of those cards were bombs, but it appeared they were spread evenly throughout the field and the real innovation came down to the actual drafting and building of decks. Finkel and Ravitz opted to force a Slivers strategy, while Sonne and Thompson kept an eye on shadow creatures to combo with their Stronghold Overseer and anything with a comes-into-play effect for abuse with a late-pick Tolarian Sentinel. The rest of the table concentrated on cohesive color-based strategies.
Which team will win the pod? You'll have to keep checking the coverage to find out.
As for the question of whether or not 2HG is all about luck, the evidence seems to indicate it definitely is not, but as with so many things in public opinion, the jury may never be in for certain…