Draft 1 Feature - Billy Jensen and Mike Long
by Randy Buehler
At first you might think that Billy Jensen and Mike Long were unhappy when they were forced to sit down next to each other for the first draft of US Nationals. However, I talked to Bob Maher, Jr. as "the Bomber" went off to his own table and he commented that he was at a table with 7 guys he'd never heard of and he didn't know if that was good, or if he 'd be forced to draft three colors. At least when you draft with top players, the theory goes, you know basically what to expect. They rarely switch colors and they try not to send confusing signals.
Jensen and Long played nice. After elected for a first pick Snorting Gahr (over Gush, Vine Trellis, and Kris Mage), Jensen had to decide between Silverglade Elemental and Stinging Barrier. The Barrier is obviously the better card, but Jensen decided he was better off sticking to his initial color and sending a clear signal to Mike. Silverglade isn't exactly bad and the added value of knowing that Long would be drafting blue made it the right thing to do. Long had taken Aerial Caravan first overall so he was delighted about this turn of events.
Long's second pick was Kris Mage (over Gush and Vine Trellis), indicating a predisposition to want to go red. Jensen gladly sucked down a 3rd pick Trellis and a 4th pick Snorting Gahr. Vine Trellis gets drafted a lot earlier now since Prophecy gives green so many 4 and 5 mana creatures, but precious little to do on turn 2. The Trellis is not just a turn 2 play, it also accelerates you to those 4 and 5 mana fatties which are green's real strength. The 4th pick Gahr pack had a Rishadan Airship for Long.
After that, the green dried up and Jensen started looking for a second color. He took Molting Harpy 5th over Highway Robber and Howling Wolf. He then took Undertaker without hesitation and passed Long a Cloud Sprite and an Indentured Djinn (Long took the Sprite). Jensen's next pack presented him with Tranquility and Lightning Hounds. He took the Hounds and seemed to be considering red in case he got passed some more late quality, but no more red materialized. Jensen's next picks were Misshapen Fiend, Alley Grifters, Skulking Fugitive, and Dark Ritual. Long, meanwhile, finished up with Magistrate's Veto (a very high quality sideboard card), and a couple copies of Crash.
Going into Nemesis, both players seemed confident in their color choices. They cooperated nicely and got solid picks. There's no clearer signal than a third pick Stinging Barrier and Jensen's 4th pick Gahr indicated to him that he could expect to enjoy Prophecy.
Jensen needed only 5 seconds to select Massacre from his Nemesis pack. Long had a much tougher debate when he busted Flowstoen Crusher, Seal of Fire, and Lin Sivvi. He was visibly upset and seemed to seriously consider defensively drafting the Rebel Hero, but he finally decided he had to draft for his own deck and he took the Crusher. He tooked over at Jensen and shook his head, thinking that he'd just handed him a gift-wrapped present. Of course, it turns out that Jensen wasn't drafting white either and Lin Sivvi got passed on down the line. Jensen seemed much less tempted to counter-draft than Long was, selected Treetop Bracers over Lin Sivvi.
Long was even less happy about pack #2. His choices were Rhox, Blastoderm, and Oraxid. Long settled on Oraxid and Jensen happily drafted Rhox with his 3rd pick. The next two packs added Oraxid #2 and Oraxid #3 to Long's deck. The third Oraxid surprised me a bit since he took it instead of Submerge. Jensen was scared of that Submerge and he counterdrafted it once that pack was passed to him. Long's turbo-Oraxid deck got a lot better when pack #5 was passed to him. Ensnare stared back at him -- perhaps the best blue card in all of Nemesis. Rootwater Commando, Cloudskate, and Mogg Toady then rounded out a pretty solid blue/red beatdown deck. Long's 9th pick was a Topple, indicating that perhaps white was underdrafted at the table.
Meanwhile Jensen took Vicious Hunger over Belbe's Pecher, the Submerge, a Belbe's Percher, and then Skyshroud Claim over Seal of Strength (!). Animate Land was next (over Spiteful Bully) and then he was reduced to drafting Stronghold Disciples that I'll be very surprised if he plays. Long pumped his first when Seal of Removal came back to him as his 10th pick and that was the end of the interesting Nemesis cards.
Jensen opened his Prophecy pack and din't have to think much. He busted a great rare that was in one of his colors: Avatar of Woe. Long also busted a rare in his colors, but Denying Winds isn't exactly a bomb (he ended up drafting it 9th when his pack came back to him). Long's decision was between Rhystic Lightning and Withdraw. He went for the burn spell. Long took teh full time for his next decision: Lesser gargadon or Rhystic Lightning. After much debate he went with the 6/4 Gargadon. I was surprised by his next pick -- after rereading Windscouter he decided it was beter than Withdraw. He obviously doesn't like Withdraw as much as most people I talked to yesterday. I was equally surprised when Long debated for the full time over Fault Riders and Keldon Berserker. Whichever you think is better, they are both commons in the same color and you'd think Long would have made those sorts of decisions ahead of time. Long decided on Fault Riders (as I would have too). After that Long counter-drafted a Mine Bearer (instead of taking Alexi's Cloak for his own deck) and he lept at the opportunity to draft Brutal Suppression for his sideboard. Take that Lin Sivvi!
Jensen used his 2nd pick in Prophecy to counterdraft a Rhystic Lightning instead of taking Bog Glider for his own deck (or D-drafting Withdraw). Pick 3 was easy -- Thresher Beast. Vintara Snapper rounded out his mana curve nicely and then Fen Stalker added some evasion to his deck. Jensen's 5th pick was Jolrael's Favor (over Outbreak and Spore Frog). I was surprised he liked the Favor that much since that's SO much mana to regenerate, but of course no one is truly confident in their evaluations of Prophecy cards at this point. Jensen got Wild Might 7th, followed by a pair of Bog Gliders.
As the players went off to build their decks I think they both had to be happy. One will lose to the other, of course, but I'd be surprised if either player loses to anyone else.