Owen’s a Win – Reviewing Ben Stark’s M14 Draft

This week, in the wake of the World Championship, I decided to do a rundown of the draft viewer—and who else would we want to study but Ben Stark? Recently inducted into the Hall of Fame and widely regarded as the best drafter of all time. I have played my fair share of M14 Limited already and I fancy myself an aficionado at core set draft, so let’s see how my picks stack up next to his.

*: I agree with the pick.

Pack 1, pick 1

[draft]Artificer’s Hex
Banisher Priest
Blood Bairn
Cancel
Claustrophobia
Deathgaze Cockatrice
Fog
Messenger Drake
Nightwing Shade
Pillarfield Ox
Plains
Regathan Firecat
Shimmering Grotto
Shock
Wild Ricochet[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Claustrophobia[/card]

I’m going to go out on a limb here and disagree with Ben right off the bat, which is probably a dangerous mistake. In my review of the top commons in the set, I made almost no mention of [card]Claustrophobia[/card], which was a pretty big error. My experience with the card came from Innistrad draft where it was mediocre—but that was purely a product of the format and blue having different goals, like self-mill.

My Pick: [card]Banisher Priest[/card]

In core set Limited, Claustrophobia is excellent, but I still think I would prefer to have [card]Banisher Priest[/card] or [card]Shock[/card] here. I would end up taking the [card]Banisher Priest[/card] despite the fact that I think red is the best color and white is the worst color. Banisher Priest has the overall highest power-level and that’s how I like to start a draft. I assume Ben makes this pick because he has a bias against white or toward blue.

Pack 1, pick 2

[draft]Auramancer
Blightcaster
Enlarge
Festering Newt
Master of Diversion
Messenger Drake
Mountain
Pitchburn Devils
Siege Mastodon
Sliver Construct
Smelt
Staff of the Flame Magus
Thunder Strike
Time Ebb[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Enlarge[/card]*

Ben took [card]Enlarge[/card] here and I love that pick. Enlarge is a great card that acts like a big BIG [card]Searing Blaze[/card], when you can catch your opponent off guard with only their best creature untapped, it kills a guy and tramples over for heaps of damage. Sometimes you have to just kill a small creature and deal a ton of damage, but there are also times where your opponent taps out on turn five to cast a [card]Serra Angel[/card] and you get to slam Enlarge killing it and dealing a nice chunk of damage. Green doesn’t pair particularly well with blue, but Enlarge is too good to pass up. The the way Ben Stark likes to draft he rarely gets married to his first pick.

Pack 1, pick 3

[draft]Accorder’s Shield
Act of Treason
Blessing
Deathgaze Cockatrice
Divination
Festering newt
Indestructibility
Island
Pay No Heed
Pillarfield Ox
Seismic Stomp
Wild Guess
Wring Flesh[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Act of Treason[/card]

I have to say this pick came as a total surprise to me, but I like it. In fact, I really like it! I recently wrote about a fun deck I played with based around Act of Treason + sacrificing creatures, and how reliably assembling that combo can be broken. It seems like Ben agrees with that, since I doubt he would want Act of Treason to pair straight up with green or blue. I’ll admit that the pack is pretty weak, but I don’t think Ben would be leaping into a new color for an Act of Treason in a different core set format, and by that I mean without the help of any sacrifice shenanigans.

My Pick: [card]Divination[/card]

Personally, I probably would have gone for a [card]Divination[/card] here, but I know Ben doesn’t like that card, and if he’s down to take an Act of Treason and run with it, then I support that.

Pack 1, pick 4

[draft]Act of Treason
Fleshpulper Giant
Frost Breath
Giant Growth
Giant Spider
Glimpse the Future
Lightning Talons
Marauding Maulhorn
Nightwing Shade
Shadowborn Apostle
Swamp
Tenacious Dead[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card]

This is a pretty close decision. I think that because you now are choosing to go red and you want your deck to be based around [card]Act of Treason[/card], you might just want to take the second one. When you have one already and you want to place a high priority on picking up sacrifice outlets, then you also want to get as many Act of Treason as you can, it’s a weird cycle. I can’t really fault any red player for wanting to pick a [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card] though, since it’s a 5/3 for four with a drawback that really isn’t a drawback. In a deck with a large number of [card]Shock[/card]s and [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card]s nothing can really close out a game like the Maulhorn.

My Pick: [card]Act of Treason[/card]

This is a really close pick, but I would have gone for the Act of Treason, which is a more all-in pick than the Maulhorn hedge that leads to more good decks and less great decks.

Pack 1, pick 5

[draft]Divine Favor
Angelic Wall
Barrage of Expendables
Bubbling Cauldron
Dark Favor
Fog
Forest
Giant Spider
Gladecover Scout
Solemn Offering
Vampire Warlord[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Bubbling Cauldron[/card]*

This is a pick I like and strongly agree with. If you read my article about Team Sealed, then you know how absurd I think Bubbling Cauldron is even without any Newts or [card]Bogbrew Witch[/card]es to go with it. I love this card with Act of Treason, and it is still very good with cards like [card]Tenacious Dead[/card] and [card]Pitchburn Devils[/card]. Don’t get me wrong, I like [card]Barrage of Expendables[/card] as well, but just not as much as [card]Bubbling Cauldron[/card] in a deck based around Act of Treason.

Pack 1, pick 6

[draft]Altar’s Reap
Dragon Hatchling
Gladecover Scout
Lava Axe
Merfolk Spy
Plains
Shadowborn Apostle
Vampire Warlord
Verdant Haven
Wring Flesh[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Vampire Warlord[/card]*

You can see, Ben is clearly leaning towards a black-red sacrifice deck with this and his previous pick. [card]Vampire Warlord[/card] is a great card to have one of in your deck. A five-casting-cost 4/2 is not exactly the most efficient card in the world, but it adds to the total number of sacrifice outlets, and it is usually pretty tough to kill or even beat in combat. I like this card and I think this is a great pick.

Pack 1, pick 7

[draft]Groundshaker Sliver
Minotaur Abomination
Mountain
Plummet
Seismic Stomp
Silence
Staff of the Sun Magus
Tome Scour
Undead Minotaur[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Undead Minotaur[/card]*

Not much to see here, barely any playable cards and Ben chooses to take the solid three-drop over some chaff. I really dislike [card]Seismic Stomp[/card] and would pretty rarely maindeck it, though it can be used quite effectively in a RG mirror match.

Pack 1, pick 8

[draft]Blur Sliver
Brindle Boar
Forest
Merfolk Spy
Regathan Firecat
Solemn Offering
Undead Minotaur
Wall of Swords[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Regathan Firecat[/card]*

[card]Regathan Firecat[/card] is great, one of my favorite creatures in the set. When you can clear the board it rips your opponent to shreds but it comes at the cost of having 1 toughness. This is a card I would pick high and always maindeck when red, but I would side it out easily against a large number of [card]Wring Flesh[/card], [card]Flames of the Firebrand[/card], or stuff like [card]Molten Birth[/card].

Pack 1, pick 9

[draft]Artificer’s Hex
Cancel
Fog
Pillarfield Ox
Plains
Regathan Firecat
Shimmering Grotto[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Regathan Firecat[/card]*

I like where this is going.

Pack 1, pick 10

[draft]Mountain
Siege Mastodon
Sliver Construct
Smelt
Staff of the Flame Magus
Thunder Strike[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Thunder Strike[/card]

If I was red/green I would always take [card]Sliver Construct[/card] here, but just being base-red can sometimes be reason enough to want a small Sliver theme. It’s tough, because [card]Thunder Strike[/card] is an important card to have if you run multiple [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card]s.

My Pick: [card]Sliver Construct[/card]

Being forced to attack every turn can sometimes lead to blowouts and Thunder Strike can help prevent that, but if you end up with some [card]Blur Sliver[/card]s or a [card]Battle Sliver[/card], then you might like a [card]Sliver Contruct[/card]. Being an artifact can randomly be great against [card]Accursed Spirit[/card] as well.

Pack 1, pick 11

[draft]Accorder’s Shield
Indestructibility
Island
Seismic Stomp
Wild Guess[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Accorder’s Shield[/card]*

I can only assume Ben has big plans for his [card]Regathan Firecat[/card]s with this thing.

Pack 1, pick 12

[draft]Fleshpulper Giant
Glimpse the Future
Shadowborn Apostle
Swamp[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Fleshpulper Giant[/card]*

A fine sideboard card if you ever want to go up to 18 lands in a matchup that is grindy and has long games, it’s one of those go-bigger cards you occasionally want.

Pack 1, pick 13

[draft]Angelic Wall
Forest
Gladecover Scout[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Angelic Wall[/card]*

Hate draft.

Pack 1, pick 14

[draft]Merfolk Spy
Plains[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Merfolk Spy[/card]*

Pack 1, pick 15

[draft]Mountain[/draft]

Pack 2, pick 1

[draft]Armored Cancrix
Canyon Minotaur
Charging Griffin
Dawnstrike Paladin
Disperse
Divination
Dragon Egg
Festering Newt
Flames of the Firebrand
Master of Diversion
Mountain
Nightwing Shade
Seismic Stomp
Tenacious Dead
Tidebinder Mage[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Flames of the Firebrand[/card]*

I would be thrilled to open this pack, as [card]Flames of the Firebrand[/card] is the best non-rare red card in the set.

Pack 2, pick 2

[draft]Armored Cancrix
Coral Merfolk
Divine Favor
Elixir of Immortality
Flames of the Firebrand
Giant Spider
Illusionary Armor
Island
Megantic Sliver
Naturalize
Negate
Seacoast Drake
Solemn Offering
Striking Sliver[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Flames of the Firebrand[/card]*

Oooooook this is getting ridiculous. [card]Megantic Sliver[/card] is great, but the green ship and the Sliver ship have sailed, and it would require extreme circumstances for me to want to pass Flames of the Firebrand in a base-red deck like this one. I would also take Flames here and I would be pretty satisfied with how the draft is going.

Pack 2, pick 3

[draft]Altar’s Reap
Auramancer
Celestial Flare
Dragon Hatchling
Frost Breath
Gladecover Scout
Island
Lightning Talons
Manaweft Sliver
Sentinel Sliver
Trained Condor
Vastwood Hydra
Young Pyromancer[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Young Pyromancer[/card]*

This pick may make you think that Ben was in a good position to be green considering he could have had the [card]Megantic Sliver[/card] followed by either [card]Manaweft Sliver[/card] or [card]Vastwood Hydra[/card], but Ben is drafting well and is in the correct colors. I wouldn’t be tempted by green here. Sure [card]Vastwood Hydra[/card] is a good card, but it really isn’t all that different than a [card]Krakilin[/card]. A creature like this doesn’t really die very often and it’s hard to make it mana-efficient, since a four-mana 2/2 and a six-mana 4/4 are both pretty mediocre.

[card]Young Pyromancer[/card] on the other hand is great and exactly as awesome as it looks. I would say a third pick Young Pyromancer is a much greater signal that red is open (especially after getting passed a Flames of the Firebrand) than a third pick Vastwood Hydra is a signal that green is open.

Pack 2, pick 4

[draft]Charging Griffin
Congregate
Disperse
Frost Breath
Hunt the Weak
Kalonian Tusker
Nephalia Seakite
Pay No Heed
Plummet
Undead Minotaur
Vile Rebirth
Forest[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Kalonian Tusker[/card]*

Pretty bad pack for red and black. Plus [card]Kalonian Tusker[/card] is awesome—maybe green is open?

Pack 2, pick 5

[draft]Dark Favor
Elvish Mystic
Forest
Goblin Diplomats
Goblin Shortcutter
Hive Stirrings
Mind Rot
Pitchburn Devils
Scroll Thief
Staff of the Wild Magus
Verdant Haven[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Goblin Diplomats[/card]*

This is a wonderful pick as I am a huge fan of [card]Goblin Diplomats[/card]. He masquerades around as cool two-drop 2/1, but in reality he breaks any board stall wide open. I wouldn’t take him over a [card]Shock[/card] or a [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card] (though it is very close), I would take him over most other red cards and I would be very happy having him. Huey had this guy in our Team Sealed and did some serious damage to people with it and a [card]Deadly Recluse[/card] enchanted with [card]Trollhide[/card].

Pack 2, pick 6

[draft]Blessing
Groundshaker Sliver
Lava Axe
Mountain
Nightwing Shade
Rumbling Baloth
Seismic Stomp
Shiv’s Embrace
Undead Minotaur
Vial of Poison[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Rumbling Baloth[/card]

I really hate this pick. I know he thinks he may end up green, but [card]Shiv’s Embrace[/card] has grown on me very quickly.

My Pick: [card]Shiv’s Embrace[/card]

I approach most Limited formats thinking that creature enchantments are bad because they usually lead to getting 2-for-1’d, and that is the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone in a game of Limited. That said, Shiv’s Embrace has enough of an upside when uncontested and there doesn’t feel like there is as much removal this time around to punish the downside. I have been taking Shiv’s Embrace quite highly in draft and just slamming it on anything and winning. Losing a card as good as Shiv’s Embrace for a card you think you might only play half the time is inexcusable.

Pack 2, pick 7

[draft]Auramancer
Bramblecrush
Nightwing Shade
Pay No Heed
Regathan Firecat
Shadowborn Apostle
Steelform Sliver
Swamp
Trollhide[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Regathan Firecat[/card]*

Back on target. I approve.

Pack 2, pick 8

[draft]Academy Raider
Bramblecrush
Hive Stirrings
Hunt the Weak
Oath of the Ancient Wood
Pitchburn Devils
Plains
Show of Valor[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Pitchburn Devils[/card]*

I like [card]Academy Raider[/card], but [card]Pitchburn Devils[/card] is a better card on its own, but also much more important to a deck that is actively looking for ways to sacrifice creatures. It’s great when you can turn Pitchburn Devils into a burn spell and gain some kind of benefit for sacrificing a creature.

Pack 2, pick 9

[draft]Armored Cancrix
Canyon Minotaur
Dawnstrike Paladin
Dragon Egg
Mountain
Nightwing Shade
Seismic Stomp[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Dragon Egg[/card]*

I have found Dragon Egg to be pretty mediocre unless you are in the business of sacrificing creatures, in which case it is playable but still not exciting. [card]Canyon Minotaur[/card] is nothing special so he isn’t really risking much taking the Egg here. I like this pick.

Pack 2, pick 10

[draft]Armored Cancrix
Elixir of Immortality
Island
Naturalize
Negate
Solemn Offering[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Naturalize[/card]*

A totally acceptable sideboard card if he ends up playing green.

Pack 2, pick 11

[draft]Dragon Hatchling
Frost Breath
Gladecover Scout
Island
Lightning Talons[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Dragon Hatchling[/card]*

I said I really do like creature enchantments in this format when discussing Shiv’s Embrace, but for some reason I have never really liked [card]Lightning Talons[/card]. It doesn’t boost the toughness of your creature so it will always remain vulnerable to [card]Shock[/card], and it doesn’t grant evasion or the ability to firebreathe your opponent to death. Lightning Talons is all right but nothing special. Given the amount of red cards picked and the lack of a good second color, I think [card]Dragon Hatchling[/card] should work well in this deck.

Pack 2, pick 12

[draft]Frost Breath
Pay No Heed
Undead Minotaur
Forest[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Undead Minotaur[/card]*

Pack 2, pick 13

[draft]Forest
Staff of the Wild Magus
Verdant Haven[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Verdant Haven[/card]*

Pack 2, pick 14

[draft]Mountain
Seismic Stomp[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Mountain[/card]*

Its proper place.

Pack 2, pick 15

[draft]Swamp[/draft]

Pack 3, pick 1

[draft]Bubbling Cauldron
Claustrophobia
Divine Favor
Forest
Goblin Shortcutter
Lightning Talons
Liturgy of Blood
Marauding Maulhorn
Nephalia Seakite
Predatory Sliver
Seacoast Drake
Sporemound
Vampire Warlord
Warden of Evos Isle
Witchstalker[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card]*

This pick surprises me a little because if I saw this pack and I knew I had a mana base that could support [card]Liturgy of Blood[/card], I would take it. And if I knew I had a mana base that could support [card]Witchstalker[/card], I would take that. I think at this point in the draft the only thing Ben knew for sure is that he was base red and his plan was to just figure out the rest later, this is a plan I totally respect. He kept on target and took Marauding Maulhorn. Good pick.

Pack 3, pick 2

[draft]Act of Treason
Angelic Wall
Auramancer
Chandra’s Outrage
Child of Night
Congregate
Deathgaze Cockatrice
Fog
Plains
Shimmering Grotto
Spell Blast
Sporemound
Verdant Haven
Wring Flesh[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card]*

[card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card] is a great pickup here and the best red common in the set. I even like it better than Act of Treason unless I have a perfect Act of Treason deck. The fact that it requires so much less setup is relevant, and the more I have played this format the more losses I take to cards like [card]Serra Angel[/card], [card]Sengir Vampire[/card], and [card]Air Servant[/card]. Chandra’s Outrage is invaluable in these situations.

Pack 3, pick 3

[draft]Rootwalla
Giant Growth
Island
Messenger Drake
Nightwing Shade
Pillarfield Ox
Shadowborn Apostle
Shock
Staff of the Sun Magus
Thunder Strike
Time Ebb
Wild Ricochet
Woodborn Behemoth[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Shock[/card]*

Is there a red card Ben doesn’t have? I mean seriously. This draft has gone so well for him, and it all started with a 3rd pick [card]Act of Treason[/card] leading him to believe red was open which eventually netted [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card], [card]Shock[/card], [card]Flames of the Firebrand[/card], and [card]Young Pyromancer[/card]. Bravo.

Pack 3, pick 4

[draft]Academy Raider
Accursed Spirit
Coral Merfolk
Duress
Elvish Mystic
Frost Breath
Gnawing Zombie
Hive Stirrings
Island
Lava Axe
Mind Rot
Wall of Swords[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Gnawing Zombie[/card]

Having played with this card a fair bit I have found it to be pretty unimpressive. It’s a two-mana 1/3 that just sits around and doesn’t hit particularly hard or have an ability that is all that relevant.

My Pick: [card]Academy Raider[/card]

Gnawing Zombie’s ability is good, but it’s hard to be all that useful when it costs two mana and requires black every time. I would have gone with Academy Raider here.

Pack 3, pick 5

[draft]Angelic Wall
Dark Favor
Demolish
Fog
Guardian of the Ages
Island
Messenger Drake
Show of Valor
Sliver Construct
Thunder Strike
Verdant Haven[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Dark Favor[/card]
My Pick: [card]Thunder Strike[/card] or [card]Sliver Construct[/card]

Dark Favor is just a bad card and it’s hard to cast.

Pack 3, pick 6

[draft]Dragon Egg
Dragon Hatchling
Festering Newt
Hive Stirrings
Lava Axe
Millstone
Plains
Scroll Thief
Siege Mastodon
Suntail Hawk[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Dragon Egg[/card]*

He already has one of these but I suspect his deck will have a very heavy-red mana base, and with a [card]Gnawing Zombie[/card] and a [card]Bubbling Cauldron[/card] maybe this will end up being useful. Surely it’s better than a [card]Lava Axe[/card] or a second [card]Dragon Hatchling[/card].

Pack 3, pick 7

[draft]Cancel
Darksteel Ingot
Forest
Hunt the Weak
Lay of the Land
Minotaur Abomination
Negate
Spell Blast
Thunder Strike[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Hunt the Weak[/card]*

Still holding out some hope for green it seems like. I don’t think this will make the deck very often anyway.

Pack 3, pick 8

[draft]Academy Raider
Darksteel Forge
Demolish
Island
Sliver Construct
Soulmender
Staff of the Flame Magus
Verdant Haven[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Academy Raider[/card]*

I guess it’s pretty smart to pass Academy Raiders when the pick is really close if you know you can get them much later.

Pack 3, pick 9

[draft]Bubbling Cauldron
Divine Favor
Forest
Goblin Shortcutter
Lightning Talons
Predatory Sliver
Sporemound[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Goblin Shortcutter[/card]*

Amazing late pickup here. Two-drops are good and Goblin Shortcutter never disappoints as a red creature that can get the beats going and keep them going.

Pack 3, pick 10

[draft]Congregate
Fog
Plains
Shimmering Grotto
Spell Blast
Verdant Haven[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Congregate[/card]*

Looks like a nice hate draft here. I wouldn’t have any interest in a [card]Verdant Haven[/card] or a [card]Shimmering Grotto[/card] if I were Ben either.

Pack 3, pick 11

[draft]Island
Shadowborn Apostle
Staff of the Sun Magus
Thunder Strike
Wild Ricochet[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Wild Ricochet[/card]*

Very good sideboard card against a deck with a large amount of red or black removal. If you can spike this on a [card]Liturgy of Blood[/card], [card]Doom Blade[/card], or [card]Shock[/card] then you’re probably going to win that game. I recall the card [card]Deflection[/card] being an all right sideboard card and this card can really go wild.

Pack 3, pick 12

[draft]Academy Raider
Frost Breath
Island
Lava Axe[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Academy Raider[/card]*

I guess people don’t like this card as much as I do.

Pack 3, pick 13

[draft]Demolish
Island
Verdant Haven[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Demolish[/card]*

Pack 3, pick 14

[draft]Dragon Hatchling
Plains[/draft]

Ben’s Pick: [card]Dragon Hatchling[/card]*

I guess nobody wanted anything to do with red this draft.

Pack 3, pick 15

[draft]Forest[/draft]

All in all I think Ben drafted very well and this was an amazing example of hope to avoid getting trapped by your first pick (a problem I know I have). I was surprised at how he picked [card]Act of Treason[/card] so early then made very few attempts to pick more or build that kind of deck, especially after a [card]Bubbling Cauldron[/card] and a [card]Vampire Warlord[/card]. I think Ben severely underrates [card]Shiv’s Embrace[/card] too. Ben ended up going 3-0 with this deck, which I think is above average at that level of competition with a deck that isn’t flat-out great. But kudos to him for finding the correct open color and slamming it!

Owen Turtenwald
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