Feature: Drafting with Brandon Scheel

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Brandon Scheel has the unfortunate pleasure of being one of the best players most people are fairly unfamiliar with. Scheel hails from Ames, Iowa, which is not commonly thought of as a Magic powerhouse. However, the Iowa community, in conjunction with a few notable pros like Gerry Thompson, has been responsible for churning out and fine-tuning some of the best Constructed decks of the past year. Scheel showed the Nationals community that he’s no slouch at Limited, either, as he ran his pod Friday to end the day at 6-1.

His Saturday pod sported some fairly accomplished players. Across the table from him, Brian David-Marshall pulled up a seat to watch Paul “Neon” Cheon try to assemble a monster. To his right, Michael Jacobs, in his trademark beanie and sullen “hope I die” expression, was trying to make a run at a second consecutive US National team appearance. And the player passing to him, Shaheen Soorani, is no slouch either. This Virginia native managed a Top 16 finish in Worlds 2006, and seems to blow every PTQ season up with an innovative u/w control deck.

Scheel cracked his first pack, although when the pack is packaged in a paper band instead of the traditional metallic plastic wrapper, you sort of lose that trademark “cracking” sound. Much like Scheel’s first pack, the sound is sadly unimpressive. He stared down a pack containing Spectral Procession, Resplendent Mentor, and a couple of other mid-level white cards. He dropped the Spectral Procession into his pile, and shipped the other white cards off to his left.

The second pack was equally lackluster. The Safehold was well represented by the Safehold Sentry and Safehold Duo, the only other card of note was a Faerie Swarm. Scheel took the Safehold Sentry, hoping to build a nice, aggressive white deck. His third pack gave him a Last Breath, which is great removal but the life gain has the unfortunate property of offsetting the damage your early creatures deal. The pack also had a Mudbutton Cohort, a pretty strong pick for any red deck, and a Turn to Mist. The Turn to Mist, when combined with the previously passed white cards, had a strong potential to push one of the players immediately to his left into white.

The next few packs continued the trend of giving Scheel some mid-level white cards like a second Last Breath, a Barrenton Cragtreads, and a Safehold Duo. He was passing a number of green cards and some more good red creatures, but not much else. His first really big break came in pack seven when he pulled a Turn to Mist to the front of the pack only to forget he ever saw it when he saw the Gnarled Effigy at the back of the pack. Effigy is an incredibly powerful card in a white deck. In the later stages of the game, after white’s little beaters have started to become ineffective and the deck has moved into stall mode, the Effigy allows the white player to start to clear the board in addition to locking it down.

The remainder of the first pack brought him a couple of Wanderbrine Rootcutters and a Kithkin Shielddare. At first, it seemed that Scheel was defensively drafting the Rootcutters in preparation for a green splash, since it seemed likely that with all the u/w cards getting passed, his primary white cards would be green as well. Afterwards, he told me that while that was true, the real reason he took it was that he knew that splashing black or blue was going to be an option, and they left him prepared for either scenario. He also explained that the oft-maligned Shielddare is pretty strong in the middle and late stages of the white deck’s game plan. Once the stall comes on, the Shielddare rules the attack step.

The second pack offered an interesting development for Scheel and definitely made his splash decision a little easier. Incremental Blight, or “Wrath of God you,” as I call it, went into his pile so fast that I had to slow him down so I could see the remaining cards in the pack. After looking at the barren wasteland he laid out to his right, I realized why he slapped it down so fast. His next few packs gave him a few high quality white cards, which surprised me a little since he had passed so much decent white, and really nothing else, in the first pack. Kitchen Finks and Ballynock Cohort are both top-level picks for a white deck that made it through the gauntlet to his left and into his deck.

I thought his fourth pick was rather interesting, and worth talking about. In a pack that contained the above average Wicker Warcrawler, Niveous Wisps, which became incredibly good with the advent of the Ballynock Trapper, and an Elsewhere Flask to help him cast his freshly drafted Incremental Blight, Scheel selected Beseech the Queen. This signaled a commitment to black beyond just a splash, which based on the way the first pack had gone, seemed like a good idea. With the amount of white he passed in the first pack that had not made its way back around the table, it seemed likely that the white in this pack was going to dry up soon. In addition, it allowed him to get his bomb uncommon.

The next few picks solidified his move into black. A trio of Corrosive Mentors and his third Wanderbrine Rootcutter found their way into his pile. He even got some late aggressive creatures, like a ninth pick Sickle Ripper and tenth pick Faerie Macabre. He was actually pretty pleased with the overflow of Corrosive Mentors he picked up. He knew he had passed some good aggressive red cards to his left, and hadn’t seen much this pack, so he figured the 1/3 wither creatures would be quite good against the Mudbutton Cohorts and other 2/2s that make up the bulk of the red deck’s creature base. He also passed two Scuzzback Marauders, and having a mentor and one of his three Rootcutters made dealing with the persistent threat a little easier.

His final pack didn’t give him as much as he would have liked, though he did open the potential powerhouse Figure of Destiny, which is great because it gave him a reliable finisher and something to do in the later stages of the game. His second-pick Ballynock Trapper and third-pick Recumbent Bliss added some much needed spot removal to his deck. He picked up another solid finisher when he fifth picked a Kithkin Spellduster. The larger than average, persistent flier can be really hard to kill.

His sixth pick was a controversial one in my mind. When I saw the pack, my first thought was “finally, some real cards.” Siphon Life and Cenn’s Enlistment are two phenomenally powerful spells featuring the amazing retrace ability. Scheel thought for a few minutes and selected the Cenn’s Enlistment. When I asked him about it later, he gave me some reasons that made the decision way closer than I thought it was. Combined with the Resplendent Mentor from the first pack, Cenn’s Enlistment is unbelievably powerful. In addition, while Siphon Life is incredibly powerful in an aggressive black deck where you only need to cast it two or three times to finish the game, in this more controlling deck, you might have to cast it five or six times to get the job done. That logic made sense to me, and I see where he’s coming from, but I’m still not sure I could have pulled the trigger as he did.

His best point, in my opinion, was that there wasn’t a whole lot else in the pack, and he knew someone to his left was playing white. If he passed the Enlistment, it would get played. If he passed the Siphon Life, it would probably get defensively drafted. The plethora of black cards that came through in the second pack made it unlikely that a player to his left was black enough to draft it and play it. This is an important lesson to take away: cards aren’t equivalently powerful in each deck. While the Siphon Life would have been nice in his deck, the Enlistment would have most likely been better in an opponent’s deck than the Siphon Life would have been in his. It didn’t lessen the quality of his deck too much to select the card he did, but it made his opponents’ decks far worse. Next level thinking.

When discussing his deck after the draft, Scheel admitted that he figured his deck was probably a 2-1 deck, though he thought he might be able to pull a 3-0 out with it. “The packs were really poor, so I figure that everyone’s deck is probably fairly mediocre. It’s going to force them to do some interesting things with their builds just like I did.” I checked around the table between each pack, and it seemed like he was fairly right. The colors were kind of all over the place. Everyone had a major color, but beyond that, it seemed like everyone was unsure what to do. The only player who seemed to have a truly cohesive deck was Neon Cheon, who ended up with the red cards that no one else seemed to care about.

As a side note, the player to Scheel’s left, who Scheel thought ended up with the red he passed, had actually been the one soaking up the other white cards Scheel was passing. After opening up a Silkbind Faerie and getting passed a Resplendent Mentor, he proceeded to take the Turn to Mists, Safehold Duos, and the other second best white cards in the packs Scheel was passing. Scheel admitted to me after the draft that he thought he had pushed the player just to his right out of white pretty well since the cards that filtered through were only of average quality. I think he’ll be a little surprised if they play in the next three rounds.

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