Hello Dear Reader, and welcome to my first article! My name is Sean and I friggin’ love Magic. Jupiter Games has afforded me the opportunity to write up some articles about the finer points of Limited for you fine folks on a trial basis. (Like me! Like me, or I’ll die!) *Ahem* In this article I’ll be discussing strategies, draft archetypes, talk turkey about specific picks, and overall game play pointers. Let’s start with a quick rip through my MTG bio.
I started playing in middle school during Revised edition, and played casual “kitchen table” style through high school. I stopped playing when I graduated and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. As soon as my enlistment was up I moved back home where my little brother was good enough to relinquish what was left of my collection that I had given to him. It was a bunch of Sengir Vampire’s, Black Knights, Dark Rituals, and nothing to brag about, but hey, it was most of my old collection. How many people are fortunate enough to have opted out of magic only to have the bulk of their actual collections returned to them? I spent one of my last AF checks on a bunch of cards and started playing casually again with my brother and his friends. I kept playing casually from Dissention through Lorwyn as I went from community college to Binghamton University. During the end of Lorwyn block I started reading more and more MTG articles and stumbled upon “Pack Wars.” I convinced my college roommate Rob to try it out with me. Rob also played casual but not to the extent that I did so our casual constructed decks were off balance due to the fact that I had a much deeper card pool. Our plan was to each buy one pack of Lorwyn, Morningtide, Shadowmoor, and Eventide. We used each pack for Pack Wars then used the four packs worth of cards as our sealed pool, made 40 card decks, and did battle. It worked perfectly, the games were more dynamic and we both had fun as the outcome was not predetermined by who spent more money tweaking their deck. Limited is a great way to level the playing field and is by far the best way to immerse yourself and explore a new set.
I wanted to play more of this but where I had the G.I. Bill going for me, Rob did not, and it quickly became harder to goad him into buying fresh packs with me. Then I started reading the Shards of Alara spoilers. I was infatuated! I poured through the visual spoiler and articles soaking up all the information I could. I had tried drafting a few times at stores but never really took a shine to it, as I never could figure out the format with such little exposure to it. Reading the articles had really piqued my interest though, so I decided to take another whack at it. I’d visited a new store in the Binghamton area called Jupiter Games and folks there seemed pleasant enough. I made plans and attended either a pre or a release sealed Shards of Alara tournament. I didn’t win. I didn’t come close. But I learned more here than ever before. I could actually see what I was doing wrong. Most of the people I played were throwing tips out like candy! Such as: “Wait, you’re playing white, and you left your Oblivion Ring in the sideboard? Maybe you should consider placing the best removal in the format in your main deck.” and “There are 45 cards in your deck? NO-NO, you stupid noobie!” and “Dude playing Soul’s Might in a deck with Yoked Plowbeast and Jungle Weaver makes you look fat. Big is good, but tempo isn’t just for rock stars.” I edited my deck a little and took down the last round or two with ease. Holy cow, it worked!
I went home that night and I could remember every mistake I made. I knew I needed to try again. I felt a sharp stabbing pain, some pressure, and a wave of euphoric inspiration about how my deck should have been built. I reached back to the nape of my neck where my new best friend, the draft bug was making himself at home.
Ok that was way more than a “quick rip.” Damn me and my perfect amount of narcissism. Wrap it up, Sean! After College I moved home where I don’t get to play MTG nearly as much as I’d like, due to the fact that the local store here has …undesirable circumstances, mostly due to an age disparity between me and the group that frequents said sho [see: Yu-Gi-Oh!]. OK, enough bio for today, someday I may tell you the bromantic boy-meets-boy tale of my first encounter with Jupiter’s own Adam Willson. For now I’ll switch gears to talk a little on the topic that I’d like to become the meat and potatoes of this article: The art of the Draft.
This article is aimed to help novice drafters, and amuse people like Ryan, Seneca (A.K.A. “The Shredder”, more on that later …maybe), and Eli, who are all better at drafting than I am. Seriously these guys will beat your face in with a perfectly curved goat, but they can be beat. I recently did a triple Innistrad draft and made a point to take notes as I went along for the article. Now before we begin, with Innistrad there are several trending archetypal decks that some people will try to force:
- Blue/Green/(splash Black) Self-Mill. This deck has rocketed in popularity largely because it works and these two colors are currently very deep [,and it is a favorite of many pros who do draft videos]. Drawbacks: Green is cherry picked by two other deck archetypes, and its popularity weakens it as many people will try to force it. (Not too much of a drawback, but try not to get a black eye fighting for your half of a banana.)
- Green/White Tempo. People who try to force this will draft Travel Preparations and Midnight Haunting very highly. Drawbacks: Green is cherry picked by two other deck archetypes. (Go heavier with White and you should be OK, as White often demands more commitment in the sense that it’s a great main color anyway.)
- Red/Green Werewolves. No one really forces this archetype but if you have a bunch of wolves then grab those late Full Moon’s Rise‘s and Moonmist‘s and start forcing it. Drawbacks: Again Green is cherry picked by two other deck archetypes, especially the good Werewolves. Werewolves themselves also have two drawbacks: first you have to flip them and then you have to try to not unflip them. Don’t force Werewolves, let them huddle up if they choose to.
- White/Blue Fliers. Go Air Force!! *Sean stands, salutes a handy American Flag, and sings* “Off we go, into the wild blue yonder, flying high into the sun…” *Sean’s mom bursts into his room and yells at him* Drawbacks: I live at home with my mom like a loser.
- Red/Black Vampires. This archetype should not be overlooked as Victim of Night, while being one of (if not the) best pieces of removal in the format, tends to travel further around the table as splashers of black will be less likely to pick it highly. It has very good tempo and few contenders for picks. Drawbacks: you’re playing a tempo game mostly on the ground in a fairly midrange format and from what I hear vampires don’t like the taste of skaabs. (consider picking some of the larger red Werewolves to help)
- Blue/Red Flashback/Self-Mill/Burning Vengeance. This deck highlights why Self-Mill is so good. Milling Flashback cards = card advantage. Drawbacks: Hard to craft correctly and trying to force around a lone copy of Burning Vengeance can be disastrous. It still works great without Burning Vengeance, though.
These aren’t the only good color combos but they seem to be popular archetypes that people seem to hope to force draft before sitting down. Force drafting aka “cutting a color” is real and effective. If you take all the best cards in one color or archetype then you greatly increase the odds of pushing your neighbor out of it, thereby reaping the rewards in the next pack. Likewise it’s important to notice when the color you like is running dryer than a witch’s teat while another color is flowing honeyed mead. Don’t commit too heavily to the first few picks, looking at what you are being passed is as important (if not more) as knowing what signals you are sending. The rare system in magic is great at getting people to rethink blindly forcing an archetype. Players who open a bomb outside the ‘flavor of the week’ would do well to know how to draft around it even if it’s not their favorite color. I for one am usually not a big fan of blue but opening a pack one pick one Sturmgeist will make me say good bye Green/White, hello heavy Blue in a heartbeat. Another good rule for picks is the “BREAD” theory of pack/pick evaluation. It goes something like this: rank cards in a pack from best to worst by Bombs, Removal, Evasive dudes/Equipment, Advantage (of the card variety), and lastly good Dudes (note: Giant Growth type combat tricks and mana fixing are good, but only when you have enough good creatures). Again it’s only a guide, not a proven Vegas strategy like my brothers’ idiotic blackjack system. One system I am adamant about is that limited decks are 40 cards. No more, no less, if you disagree you are wrong. If you strongly disagree you are a noob and everyone knows it, prepare to lose. Every card you put in over 40 is an opportunity to not draw your bomb(s). End of story.
Those are the sorts of stuff I like to go over in my head as a kind of pregame self affirmation that I do indeed know something about this game we call Magic. Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me. Now let’s talk turkey about my recent draft. Note that I really do a lot of deck building while I draft.
- P1p1 I cracked a Devil’s Play and some Magic the Gathering Cards. No brainer.
- P1p2 I saw a lot of good Blue including a Makeshift Mauler and a Delver of Secrets but chose Slayer of the Wicked as I feared that all the hype about Green/Blue Self-Mill would overpopularize the strategy and weaken those colors. I flashed back to the time I tried to draft “Allies” in Worldwake, *shudder*. It’s amazing how tangible the metagame can feel at times.
- The next couple of picks I cut red hard as it was flowing but passed good blue such as another Delver of Secrets.
- Around pick 5 or 6 I noticed Blue was still flowing, and white and green were dry. Green particularly was dry in a “there just aren’t many green cards in these packs” kind of a way. I dove into Blue with both feet taking cards like Think Twice, Civilized Scholar, and Selhoff Occultist hoping to get the tech now and cherry pick the heavy players later, regretting not taking the Makeshift Mauler and/or Delver of Secrets.
- Pack one started drying out but I nabbed a Traveler’s Amulet in case I needed to splash a third color.
- P2p1 I had a very critical pick. Hinterland Harbor vs. Lantern Spirit. I was open to the idea that green might start flowing as the last pack just didn’t have much green. Also: Free dual land for my collection, and I love Bant! I will tell you now, Dear Reader, that I would have given in to rare greed if I wasn’t painfully aware that I was going to write about this draft. In the end I decided to take the bird-in-hand pick of Lantern Spirit for my deck over the rare in hand for my collection. It was the right pick. Its superior abilities were clutch in these games. In one game alone it kept a big flying baddy at bay for a bit and then I used it on my turn to attack while my life total was at 3, I bounced it, and played it again as a blocker, like a four mana pseudo Vigilance ability.
- P2p2 I took Butcher’s Cleaver over a Moon Heron as this card has never disappointed me, and I needed to turn my Riot Devils and Selhoff Occultists into real threats.
- P2p3 Forbidden Alchemy. With the Amulet I was very open to the idea of splashing a third color. I was heavy Blue/Red and had a bunch of Self-Mill tech, so flashback cards were looking good. I did not end up playing it.
- P2p4 Another dual land dilemma, this time Sulfur Falls. There was some debate between this and a Moon Heron but since it did fix both of my main colors and I was very open to the idea of splashing a third color I took the dual land to allow me to play another basic land of the splash. Notice the difference between the two dual land choices. Both lands were in contention with a good blue flyer. One allows me to play green speculatively, and one helps me splash any third color I happen draft. Coming on the heels of Forbidden Alchemy I could now look to pilfer good Black cards, or splash something else entirely. Mo’ options = mo’ better.
- The rest of the pack I tended to just take/hate the best card in the pack if there wasn’t much in my main two colors. Claustrophobia, Spectral Flight, Dream Twist, one of the Moon Herons wheeled, and I snapped up another Amulet knowing I probably wouldn’t play two. I also hated an Abbey Griffin. I ended this pack very scared about where this draft was going.
- P3p1 was an on-color blessing in Charmbreaker Devils. I was mildly tempted by a Burning Vengeance, but didn’t really have too many Flashback cards. Bomb it is.
- P3p2 I finally got a Makeshift Mauler. Between it and the Charmbreaker I now had justification for playing Self-Mill.
- P3p3 Rolling Temblor. Another good Flashback/Self-Mill pick.
- P3p4 there wasn’t anything for me so I hated a Rebuke.
- The next couple of picks I took things like Sensory Deprivation, Reckless Waif (a.k.a. Scarlet Johansson, the Werewolf), Bump in the Night, and Deranged Assistant.
- P3p9 the Burning Vengeance wheeled, I took it but left it in the sideboard in favor of three mana 2/3’s, as I honestly didn’t have more than a few Flashback cards, and I planned to cut some of the ones I did have like Dream Twist, Bump in the Night, and Forbidden Alchemy since only Makeshift Mauler really needed self mill. Having 2 Selhoff Occultists, and 2 Deranged Assistants meant that I didn’t need to overemphasize Self-Mill in favor of board presence.
- Then it happened. Way late in the draft I saw it out of the corner of my eye. Glistening, on the periphery of my acknowledgement. I didn’t even realize I was thirsty until Lady Luck offered me a drink. A late as hell Shimmering Grotto that I hadn’t noticed earlier. Between this, the Sulfur Falls, and a Travelers Amulet or two, I could safely splash any color I wanted wily-nily!
Looking at the three splashable colors I immediately ruled green out. Black was good with helping me flashback Forbidden Alchemy and play Bump in the Night, maybe. White had three cards total, two of which were hate picks: Slayer of the Wicked, Abbey Griffin, and Rebuke. Seeing as I didn’t have to work too hard to fix the mana I went with white as not only were they solid cards but they were everything you could ask for in a splash. Each card only had one white mana symbol and they were all good both early and late in the game. Who knew that hating the best card in the pack could land you an unplanned splash package? And with that I built a patriotic Red, White, and Blue deck (America! F-Yeah!) Decklist:
1x Traveler’s Amulet
1x Sensory Deprivation
1x Reckless Waif
1x Think Twice
1x Spectral Flight
2x Deranged Assistant
1x Butcher’s Cleaver
1x Rolling Temblor
1x Civilized Scholar
1x Feral Ridgewolf
1x Lantern Spirit
1x Riot Devil’s
2x Selhoff Occultist
1x Abbey Griffin
1x Makeshift Mauler
1x Moon Heron
1x Slayer of the Wicked
1x Tormented Pariah
1x Charmbreaker Devil
1x Devil’s Play
1x Shimmering Grotto
1x Sulfur Falls
The only card I ever pulled in from the sideboard was a second Tormented Pariah. Looking back on this deck I probably should have played Forbidden Alchemy considering the Shimmering Grotto, and the fact that it is good even without access to the flashback, live and learn. Here is a summary of the matches:
Game 1 I kept an opening hand on the draw of Island, Plains, Shimmering Grotto, Traveler’s Amulet, Reckless Waif, Deranged Assistant, and Claustrophobia. He dropped one of the Delver of Secrets that I passed. Luckily it didn’t flip too early he also dropped Silverchase Fox. I went Amulet into Waif. He dropped Fiend Hunter targeting the Waif. I drew Devil’s Play and played an Occultist which kept his team at bay until I could blast the Hunter with Devil’s play. No sooner was the Waif returned than it was slain by his Slayer of the Wicked. I played a Deranged Assistant. He played a Dearly Departed. I gave it Claustrophobia. He dropped a dude, attacked with the Slayer and passed. I dropped Lantern Spirit and passed. At the end of my turn he played the Fox’s ability and freed the Dearly Departed. Luckily I had the mana for the Lantern Spirit. We went back and forth like that for a bit with the Occultist milling me when it traded with the Slayer, milling Rolling Temblor. I flashed back Rolling Temblor. This cleared the whole board save his Dearly Departed. I took one hit from it and was at 8 to his 20 I played out the Spirit, which kept the departed at bay while he played another Delver. I dropped a ground dude and passed. The Delver flipped from Feeling of Dread which he played and I was a goner.
Game 2 was very hairy, and I’m not just talking about the Werewolves. I chose to play and kept Island, Mountain, Mountain, Think Twice, Spectral Flight, Riot Devils, and Moon Heron. He had another turn one Delver that also did not flip too early. He then dropped a Selfless Cathar. I played out Riot Devils to keep his team at bay but he cast Spectral Flight on his Delver. I didn’t poop my pants cause I had a Devil’s Play in hand. I played it with X as 3 and that nerd-ass Selfless Cather dove in front of it like an annoying Skyrim follower. (Play mistake? No, he’s just a nerd! Yep, that’s how I’m remembering that one.). He Thunk Twice on his turn, played a Silverchase Fox, and attacked for another 3. I had A Flight of my own for my Devils, attacked, and tossed out a Lantern Spirit. He Played a Thraben Sentry and swung with the Delver I didn’t have the mana to bounce the Spirit so I took it. I attacked with the Flighted Devils and the lantern spirit. He sac’d the Fox to disenchant the Spectral Flight, flipping his Sentry, but ate the Riot Devils damage anyway fearing the Devil’s Play in my grave, I played out my Moon Heron, and passed. He swing with the 5/4 trampler and I took it bringing me down to 3. I flashed back the Devil’s Play killing the Sentry and decided I couldn’t wait for the Delver to flip and got agro. (Be aggressive! B-E-Aggressive!) I swung with the Heron leaving the Lantern Spirit and Riot Devils on defense and he took it. He played an Unruly Mob and passed. I swung with the Heron again leaving the riot Devils and Lantern Spirit back on defense with me still at 3 which he took bringing him down to 9. I played out a Tormented Pariah and passed. He Slayer’ed the Werewolf, played another Delver and passed. I pooped in my pants a little, drew a Makeshift Mauler and continued swinging with the Heron, which he took. I played the Mauler and passed. He drew and passed. I drew Rebuke and swung with the Heron which he finally traded for with the Spectral Flight’ed (and still unflipped) Delver. He drew, dropped a land, and passed. This is where I got full value out of the Spirit. I swung with it and the Mauler, he threw the Slayer under the Mauler and took 2 from the spirit dropping him to 4. I bounced the Spirit and played it, and a Feral Ridgewolf leaving 3 mana open for the rebuke and passed. He revealed Forbidden Alchemy flipping the Delver and played it taking Grasp of Phantoms hoping to bounce the Spirit and go for my throat with the Delver. I didn’t activate the Spirit and Rebuked his Delver. I had lethal on the board and he conceded. At this point I realized that my getting to stay in this tournament was all made possible by not giving in to rare greed. Were it not for the Lantern Spirit I’d have been out of this thing right here.
Game 3 was an easy sweep as I curved out and my opponent couldn’t keep up. I made a bunch of play mistakes such as playing my hand perfectly but forgetting to attacking into favorable conditions early, and not using the flashback on Think Twice when I had the mana open on my opponents turn. In the end it didn’t matter, and my opponent never got anything going. I’ll take a freebie.
Game 1 On the draw I kept Island, Shimmering Grotto, Sensory Deprivation, Deranged Assistant, Selhoff Occultist, Claustrophobia, and Rebuke. He turn one dropped a Reckless Waif and I immediately used Sensory Deprivation it, seeing as how if it flipped I would take much damage, and I had two other pieces of removal in hand. Nothing like having one of the best tempo stoppers for on of the best tempo creatures. (I appreciate symmetrical gameplay). He dropped Mask of Avacyn I drew Makeshift Mauler and dropped Deranged Assistant (I see you’ve met my assistant Scarface, he’s a sweetheart, calls me master, and he has way of finding pretty things and bringing them to me). The rest of the match was one sided in every way. He attacked with the Sensory-Deprived Waif (insert ScarJo cell phone joke) dealing no damage, but hey, I’d tap it too. He then played a land and didn’t equip the Waif (he also didn’t play anything on my next turn either.) I drew a plains tapped the assistant which tossed a creature into my grave and played a turn three Makeshift Mauler. Not much else happened; I had gas for days and continually attacked into an open board with many dudes and won.
Game 2 was equally one sided and short. So I occupied my time between matches responding to my mother’s religious chain emails with links to Evil Dead clips. Oh Sean, you’re such a troll!
Game1 On the play I kept Island, Island, Travelers Amulet, Deranged Assistant, Rolling Temblor, Claustrophobia, and Tormented Pariah. I dropped Island, Amulet, and passed. He played a Plains and passed. I drew a Plains played out the Assistant, and passed. He dropped a Mountain and Geistflame‘d my Assistant and passed. We each played out some creatures and dealt damage to each other for a while. He had a Mausoleum Guard die to give him two fliers and had Rally the Peasants for the win.
Game 2 On the play I kept 3x Island, Travelers Amulet, Riot Devil’s, Selhoff Occultist, and Rebuke. After the Amulet I had the first play with Riot Devils. He dropped land and passed. I played a Deranged Assistant and swung Devils. He dropped Mausoleum Guard, passed, and I Thunk Twice on his end step. I hit him with the Devils again, played the Occultist, and passed. He played Scourge of Geier Reach, passed, and I was too busy saying “Gulp!” to Think Twice. I top-decked my Claustrophobia, slapped it on the Scourge, swung in unblocked with the Devils and the Occultist and played Butcher’s Cleaver. He played Night Revelers (a.k.a. Goth Kids) and passed. I Cleaver’ed up the Occultist and swung, trading with the Revelers bringing me to 25 life, I played out a Feral Ridgewolf and passed. He played out a Kessig Wolf and passed. I top-decked a Sensory Deprivation slapped it on his Kessig Wolf Cleaver’ed up my Feral Ridgewolf and swing into the Mausoleum Guard giving him 2 tokens and bringing him down to 8. He dropped land and passed. I drew Slayer of the Wicked, noticed the Rebuke from my opening hand and ached for white mana. I Cleaver’ed up the Devils and swung in, he threw his Sensory-Deprived Wolf under the bus [replay Scarlet Johansson joke], and I passed. He played an Ashmouth Hound and brilliantly used Traitorous Blood to untap his Scourge, passed, and I said “Gulp!” which reminded me to flashback the Think Twice this time. I played out a Moon Heron and he did nothing on his turn. I drew Charmbreaker Devil attacked with the Heron not bothering with the Cleaver and he used his rally the peasants to only use one spirit token for trade. I played Charmbreaker Devil and he remained on defense. The Devil gave me back my Devil’s Play that my Deranged Assistant had tossed in the graveyard earlier. (Thank you MTG for letting me write that sentence). We fought on for a bit but the card advantage from the Devil along with finally drawing a Plains ended things in my favor.
Game 3 I kept an opening hand on the draw of Mountain, Sulfur Falls, Travelers Amulet, Think Twice, Civilized Scholar, Feral Ridgewolf, and Rebuke. I drew a Mountain and played out Amulet, Think Twice, and Scholar in that order. On turn three I flipped the Scholar and slapped Spectral Flight on the Homicidal Brute and swung in for 7. I then giggled at the thought of a pack of angry poltergeists rallying around the angriest guy ever and carrying him to their mutual enemy. We battled it out with him casting Rebuke on the Homicidal Brute (Whatever, baby, I didn’t want his angry ass around anyway, he was scaring chicks away.) He had dropped Mausoleum Guard and a Thraben Sentry, but I had the Abbey Griffin with the Butcher’s Cleaver giving him hell. He made yet another act of inspired desperation and cast Divine Reckoning as a sack outlet for the Guard effectively flipping the Sentry and netting two flyers to handle the Griffin. I took it on the chin from the Sentry going down to 11 with him at 8 and he passed. I had a bunch of humans in hand so I swung into the spirits to clear his board, he was happy to oblige the death of my Cleaver Griffin (I think this guy doesn’t like giant flying things or something.). I continued to drop creatures, he ran out of gas, and I won the whole she-bang. Going into it I was very insecure about my pile of cards, as I had yet to test drive the Self-Mill/Flashback strategy. The rumors are true: card advantage is good, m’kay!
As you all know this weekend is Dark Ascension Prerelease weekend. I’ll be making my usual pilgrimage to the Greater Binghamton area to crack some fresh packs at Jupiter Games, and see the old gang. I hope to become afflicted with Lycanthropy so that maybe Scarlett Johansson will consider talking to me. I’ll leave you with a few quick pointers / reminders on the difference between Sealed and Draft. Sealed tends to be more of a midrange format where bombs are more important than ever. You should look to play as many bombs as possible but don’t try to bend Heaven and Earth to play bombs in weak colors. Aggro tends to be less effective as you’ll be facing many curved out midrange decks that will quickly shut down an onslaught of Grizzly Bears. Well that’s it for me, I’ll see you guys on Saturday where I hope to send some hellish monsters skittering across the battlefield clawing and biting at some familiar faces. I’m out.