Draft fans all have a favourite MTG set from years gone by
Mine’s triple Khans of Tarkir. All the colours are playable. You can play aggressive, midrange, controlling and tempo decks. It contains sweet build-around cards like Secret Plans and Raiders’ Spoils. It’s a deep format where opinion on the best archetype was always changing. For some, it was Black-White Warriors. For others, Blue-Green Ferocious. Some preferred five-colour. And while some considered Sultai to be the weakest guild, Gerard Fabiano forced it over and over again on his way to a Grand Prix title. It had a broadly flat power level with lots of playable cards. And there were some hidden gems which were better than they looked, like Salt Road Patrol, Kheru Bloodsucker and Force Away.
And then Fate Reforged came along and ruined it, with its abundance of broken rares and shift towards less exciting two colour strategies.
All of these GOAT draft formats are triple large set.
Mark Rosewater noted this in his article, Metamorphosis 2.0, announcing the removal of small sets after Ixalan block. According to Maro, this is because it’s tricky to give small sets their own identity but ensure that they mesh well with the existing cards in the large set.
But recently, I’ve started to wonder about that part. It seems like in recent years there’s been a number of examples where small sets have not only meshed well with their parent sets, but have actually enhanced the drafting experience.
This may be no more evident that with Hour of Devastation. That’s a small set, and it’s recently been hailed by Ondrej Strasky as potentially the best draft format ever! I might not go that far, but I do feel that Hour fixed a lot of the issues of triple Amonkhet draft. Triple Amonkhet was so fast that many games were uninteractive races, and decks other than CABS-style aggro were basically unplayable. Hour of Devastation changed all that, giving slower control and ramp decks a chance, while not completely neutralising aggro.
And Hour of Devastation is only one example of small decks improving or enhancing a large-set format.
Eldritch Moon added powerful emerge and spells-matter strategies to Shadows over Innistrad, and was, according to Pro Tour winner Ari Lax, perhaps the closest Magic has come to making a perfect set.
Triple Ravnica was hugely fun to draft, but when Guildpact was released, it added more variety. It felt great to play Shrieking Grotesque alongside Moroii, Izzet Chronarch with Glimpse the Unthinkable or Ogre Savant with Peel from Reality. And the release of Dissension added additional layers of complexity creating a whole new amazing format once again.
So what does this mean?
Is Rosewater’s assertion really true – that there is a problem with small sets? They may be more difficult to design, and they’re not always as well-received as large sets, but what about in terms of drafting?
In reality, I think that sometimes triple large set drafts are great, and sometimes they’re improved by the addition of other sets. And by getting rid of them in the future, we could be missing out on some fantastic draft experiences.
I know that if it weren’t for Hour of Devastation, I’d personally look back unfavourably on Amonkhet block limited. If it weren’t for small sets, we’d never have the intricate brilliance of Ravnica block draft. We wouldn’t have old-school drafters’ favourite Invasion-Planeshift-Apocalypse.
So some large-set formats are great. And some get better when you add small sets. For me right now, it’s not clear whether this change is going to make things better for drafters, or worse. But I’m excited to find out. What do you think?
Thanks for reading,