“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”
I was going to write the third instalment of my “Survival Guide” in respect to judges and TOs this week, but when I started planning the article out I realized that it was basically just a wish list based on the previous two articles. As a result I am going to wait and write that a bit closer to the time once judges and TOs have a clearer idea of what they expect from these events in terms of numbers and formats.
Khans of Tarkir is coming out, and I must say I am pretty excited. Some of the rares and mythics spoiled so far look like they will be really nice to play, either because they’re interesting cards or simply very good, versatile removal spells. There is a set of three charms with three modes which fit the bill on both counts.
Probably the thing that’s got most people particularly excited is the return of the Onslaught block fetch lands which were previously exceptionally expensive, but also not legal in Modern. Their reprint will make legacy slightly less daunting in that respect, and makes a pretty big difference to the accessibility of certain Modern decks.
What has me most excited though is the prospect of playing a multi-coloured set with morph in it. Evaluating the worth of the better shard morphs is going to be really difficult because any deck can randomly take them to fill out their three drop slot as a counter draft with the marginal benefit of having a grey ogre to cast.
Historically this hasn’t really cut it as grey ogres just aren’t that great, but what if the set turns out to be a little slower and it’s possible for the UGR deck to take a BUG morph creature and just flip it, perhaps off a BUG temple?
Then again, maybe the set will actually be pretty aggressive. If that’s the case, maybe the shard morphs are going to exceptionally high picks because they are cast-able early while you only have your 2 major colours, and can be flipped later if the game goes that long, giving you both consistency and power.
Often when a set like this comes out, people assume that means it’s time to draft indulgent 4 and 5 colour decks. I’m assuming I’m going to be a 2 colour aggressive deck, splashing for 2-3 of the appropriate colour. I thought it might be worth taking a look back at previous multi-colour sets, and what they were like.
Invasion Block (Invasion, Planeshift, Apocalypse)
Triple Invasion had allied gold cards (U/W, U/B, B/R, R/G and G/W). each of the 5 colour combinations had a gold bear with protection from the enemy colour (if you turn a Magic card facedown and select two colours next to each other, the enemy colour is the one opposite both).
At 3 casting cost, most colour combinations offered an evasive creature, while green offered [card]Pincer Spider/[card]. At 4 mana, generally you’d be expecting a 3/3 but because it’s a gold set you would normally get a 3/3 with ability. Because the set also had the kicker mechanic decks nearly always had a good curve, because later these cards could be kicked, allowing for a bit of reach and versatility. Because most decks happened to have a curve it was important to make sure that yours did, because otherwise you might just get rolled.
I liked to draft B/R because the quality of your creatures in short tempo based games is less meaningful (you are less likely to get to activate a [card]Merfolk Looter[/card] multiple times, for instance), and this colour combination offered up an obscene number of removal spells.
B/W was good too, with cards like [card]Prison Barricade[/card] breaking the linear nature of the games, as well as offering up excellent tricks and good fliers. U/B was decent, but not amazing. The green decks weren’t great, but at least G/W had [card]Armadillo Cloak[/card].
It was more than possible to draft three colour decks, but you had to do so in a sensible way. The third colour had to be splash, and have appropriate fixing, or there was a very good chance that you would get rapidly dispatched by a bear, and flier, a gloried [card]Hill Giant[/card] and a removal spell early, while your development was hampered by not being able to cast your spells.
Planeshift brought in the gating mechanic and some very good removal spells, and the format slowed down a bit. This was good for the green decks, and the U/B decks (which had a lot of come into play effects, and two good gating creatures – [card]Cavern Harpy[/card] and [card]Marsh Crocodile[/card].)
Apocalypse really shook things up by bringing in opposite colour spells. Because all the gold cards were allied colours it made sense to play Esper, Bant, Naya, Jund or Grixis (although obviously we didn’t call them that at the time) if you were going three colours, where you would really be 2 colour deck, but splash for – say – a removal spell, the 3rd colour on charm, and 2 activated abilities. Now there was tension between the pack one [card]Dromar’s Charm[/card] and the pack three [card]Jilt[/card]. By taking the Esper spell, you were locking yourself out of the Izzet, Boros, Golgari and Simic cards in the final pack.
Things got slower because there were less of the highly aggressive invasion packs, and 5 colour green decks making use of the domain mechanic got more powerful.
Ravnica Block (Ravnica, Guild Pact, Dissension)
This set was based around 2 colour combination guilds, starting with Selesnya, Dimir, Golgari and Boros, each with an associated mechanic (Convoke, Transmute, Dredge and Radiate). Each of the guilds had a thing they did and pretty much stuck to it rigidly – Selesnya made tokens and convoked big men in to play, Dimir milled people to death, Golgari helped Dimir kill it by dredging and the Boros deck rarely did enough damage in time to beat the others.
At this point the draft format was pretty much just about 2 colour combinations, and only 2 of them were particularly good. You could splash, but why bother? The other combination’s best cards all did something you didn’t want to bother with. I experimented with RUG a bit, because there were a number of good mono coloured cards and you could pick them up while other people drafted the gold cards, but the reality was that Dimir and Selesnya were super powerful.
Guild Pact brought in R/G (Gruul), U/R (Izzet) and B/W(Orzhov), with Bloodthirst, Replicate and Haunt mechanics, respectively. This was a big shake up, because if you wanted you could draft two guilds in the 3rd pack, but only if you didn’t draft any in the first. Additionally, the cards in the 3rd pack don’t have the keywords they did in the first pack, meaning that drafting a focused mill deck isn’t nearly as good, and drafting a convoke deck is trickier because you need to have a good balance of convoke cards and enablers, and you have fewer packs to make this come together.
It’s at this point that the common, 2 colour lands in the set became more important. The format was pretty slow at this point, and you could draft pretty deeply into three colours, so long as you had quality mana fixing like these lands, as well as the common signets each guild had (e.g. [card]Golgari Rot Farm[/card] and [card]Boros Signet[/card]).
When Dissension came in, bringing B/R (Rakdos with Hellbent), U/W (Azorius with Forecast) and U/G (Simic with Graft) the set became uniquely complicated. You could try to draft a guild in each set, and end up with a three colour deck. To do this, you would need to send out very good signals, and read signals very well, because otherwise you risked either shipping the guy next to you the guild you want to draft in pack 2, or getting cut out of the guilds you want in packs 1 and 3. So you could go Dimir pack one, Orzhov pack two and Azorius pack three, or you could go Boros, Izzet, Azorius.
But you couldn’t draft BUG because two out of three of your guilds are pack one, and you couldn’t draft rug because two out of three of your guilds are pack two, and the same for Bant because two of your guilds are in pack three. You could just accept a rough pack one, in the hope of a good pack three, but this leaves you in a pretty bad place if you’re wrong. Or you could just write off the middle pack, but there were some great cards in the middle, and you’re still waiting to get paid off in pack three. So maybe you could write off pack three to an extent, but then you need to hope the guy to your left read your signals pack 1, and isnt in Izzet or Gruul.
Or you could ignore all of that, and just draft all the fixing and whichever spells you wanted, within reason, combined with loads of walls that don’t really go in other people’s decks, and eventually attrition people to death with the Eidolon cycle ([card]Aurora Eidolon[/card]) and the old rules for stacking combat damage.
Alara Block (Shards of Alara, Conflux, Alara Reborn)
When this set first came out, I thought it would be a slow block like Ravnica was, and started trying to draft [card]Resounding Wave[/card], [card]Resounding Thunder[/card] and [card]Resounding Thunder[/card] with Obelisks to ramp them out, and just drown people in card advantage. Instead what I found was that it was a relatively fast format, where each of the 5 shards had a specific way they played, much like the way it was in triple Ravnica, only a good bit faster. The trick was in working out which two colours you were going to commit to most heavily, and which was going to be your splash. The more spread out you were, the higher you had to draft mana fixing, and I didn’t really want to need to pick a [card]Crumbling Necropolis[/card] over a removal spell first pick.
When Conflux came out, the esper deck has less [card]Sanctum Gargoyle[/card] and the Naya deck got loads of good cards to help it’s “5 matters” plan along (various cards would give you a benefit of some sort of you had a creature with 5 or more power). The format was still pretty fast, but you could also draft these weird 5 colour green decks.
Alara Reborn was exclusively gold cards, which you would think would mean the format became slower, and would have more and more indulgent decks. The truth of it was though that the format became very fast because of the Blade cycle ([card]Jund Hackblade[/card]). These guys were just insane. Quickly the format became about 2 colour decks, which could reliably cast two colour gold cards to enable the blades.
Return to Ravnica block (Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, Dragon’s Maze)
This block was a bit odd because of the changes to the structure of the draft format. Starting with Izzet, Rakdos, Azorius, Selesnya and Golgari with overload, unleash, detain, populate and scavenge left Golgari with the short end of the stick once again, but this time because it was a bit slow for the explosive nature of the other mechanics. This was a 2 colour format, with reasonably aggressive decks.
Gatecrash was drafted separately from Return to Ravnica, and was exceptionally fast. Dimir, Gruul, Boros, Orzhov and Simic with cipher, bloodrush, battalion, extort and evolve left Dimir in a bad place, and orzshov in a particularly good one. These mechanics all push you to develop a strong board as quickly as possible, and reward proactivity in general.
Weirdly, these very aggressive formats combined into Dragon’s Maze in a far less aggressive way. I don’t have a huge amount of experience with this format, but it seemed to me that because you’re drafting Dragon’s Maze first you’re taking something of a gamble to take a Return to Ravnica based aggressive colour combination pack one, knowing you’re not getting gold cards pack 2.
Similarly, if you take a gatecrash aggressive combination early you know you’re not getting much of a hook up pack three, meaning that drafting aggressively is difficult, and that playing a fairly mana intense control deck is probably the norm.
Looking at how each of these sets played out the speed of the format is pretty variable from set to set and is only partially related to the multi-coloured nature of the cards, and is often more to do with the relative strength of the cards, or the way the draft format is split up.
The take away for me in this is that it’s better to look at the individual cards and how they shape up their colour combinations, then think about how that is likely to influence the nature of the draft format, than it is to assume because there are loads of gold cards that you’re definitely going to be playing 3, 4 or 5 colours. Obviously you can do this if you want, but it’s not written in tablets of stone that this will be a winning strategy, and historically isn’t particularly conclusive about the nature of gold sets.
That said, it’s all still pretty exciting and there will be loads to learn. That’s it for me for this week, hopefully see some of you in Stansted!