Dragon's Maze has been out for a while now and it still feels like most players don't know of a good way to approach this complex draft format. I feel that Dragon's Maze/Gatecrash/Return to Ravnica draft is one of the most difficult formats we've had in a while. It may appear to be easy because there are guilds instead of color combinations, so in theory it would seem that most players should just stick to one or two guilds and have a deck. The way that I look at is that instead of having five colors that can combine any color with one another, we actually have ten colors (well, guilds) and each “color” can be combined with any other color or combination of colors. That can lead to a lot of possible decks.
I have one simple strategy for drafting this format and it has been very successful for me. I look for one open guild in Dragon's Maze and stick to it throughout the draft. Once I know my guild, I branch out into a second guild in the opposite pack as a splash. For example, if I am drafting Dimir, I want my splash guild to be either Azorius or Golgari, as those guilds are in the Return to Ravnica pack. So the general strategy is this: use the first pack to get a feel for what's open. If your guild is from Return to Ravnica, you will use the Gatecrash pack to pick up mana fixers and powerful cards of your splash color, and then the Return to Ravnica pack is where you will draft the core of your deck.
How will you know what is open? It can be quite difficult to get a signal due to the way that Dragon's Maze works. Dragon's Maze has a powerful multicolored common card from each guild. Orzhov has Tithe Drinker, Gruul has Zhur-Taa Druid, Boros has Viashino Firstblade, and so on. If you are seeing these commons later than third pick, there is a strong possibility that the guild is open. However, this logic can be flawed. You never know what rares people will open and every single uncommon in Dragon's Maze is multicolored which makes it nearly impossible to figure out what your opponent picked.
Let's say you see a Beetleform Mage third pick. This could mean that Simic is open, but you notice that there is an uncommon and a rare missing. While unlikely, it is possible that the players to your right have drafted Progenitor Mimic and Krasis Incubation out of that pack and are both drafting Simic in front of you. If you see that two commons are missing however, then it's safe to say that they aren't drafting Simic. It is very important to be aware of what cards were taken from the packs when picking up on a signal. While there is a very high chance that neither player is drafting Simic, it's something to watch out for in picks four and five. If the Simic cards are drying up, then maybe it's time to jump ship and have Simic as your splash instead.
Low Risk Guilds
I feel that the five Gatecrash Guilds (Gruul, Simic, Dimir, Orzhov, Boros), are the low risk guilds to draft in this format. Gatecrash was all about synergy within each guild and the best decks were strictly two color decks that utilized that guild's mechanic. For example, Boros wanted all of its creatures to have battalion. White extort cards and defensive cards like Smite didn't work very well in Boros decks. Similarly, you never wanted blue evolve creatures in your Dimir decks. If your primary guild is from Gatecrash, it is much easier to draft a deck because you always know what you're looking for and what your deck is capable of.
The other reason why drafting a Gatecrash Guild is very low-risk is because Return to Ravnica has many powerful single-colored cards which means that you are going to get a lot of playables out of the third pack. For example, white has cards like Sunspire Griffin, Arrest, and Knightly Valor and black has Stab Wound, Assassin's Strike, Dead Reveler and Ogre Jailbreaker. Red has lots of direct damage and blue has powerful flyers. In general, Return to Ravnica just has better monocolored cards than Gatecrash does, making it much easier to draft a two-color deck if your main guild is from Gatecrash.
Drafting a Gatecrash guild is also very low-risk because if you cut off a Gatecrash guild in Dragon's Maze, you are more likely to get passed that guild in pack two. For example, let's say you are in Gruul. You take all of the Gruul cards you see out of your Dragon's Maze pack, leaving the player to your left no choice but to not be in red/green. In pack two (the Gatecrash pack), the player to your left is now passing to you. This is the pack where you will get rewarded for cutting off Gruul, as your opponent will be feeding you all of the Gruul cards. Then in pack three (return to Ravnica), you won't be drafting a “guild,” as Gruul is not present in that pack, but you will be grabbing the Annihilating Fires, Explosive Impacts, and green monsters such as Golgari Longlegs and Korozda Monitor. If you are splashing a color, this is the pack where you will be looking for your guildgates.
The Return to Ravnica guilds (Selesnya, Golgari, Rakdos, Izzet, and Azorius) are high-risk guilds. If you begin drafting a Return to Ravnica guild in Dragon's Maze, your guild will not be nonexistent in pack two. Due to the high presence of multicolored cards in Gatecrash, you will likely wind up with only a few playables and will need a large amount of cards from Return to Ravnica in order to complete your deck. Waiting until the third pack to get the bread and butter of your deck is very dangerous. Sometimes the cards just won't be there. Of course, with high risk comes high reward. If your guild is open and the cards are present in Return to Ravnica, you will end up with a great deck.
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Let's say that you open an Unflinching Courage in Dragon's Maze. You begin drafting Selesnya cards in Dragon's Maze and also take a few red removal spells such as Punish the Enemy. The Gatecrash pack gives you a few Guildgates and some random green and white creatures, but you decide to pass up in the cards with a heavy Gruul color requirement. When pack three rolls around one of two things will happen. Either you will be heavily rewarded with all of the Centaur Healers and Call of the Conclaves, or the Selesnya cards will not be present. If it's the latter, then you will be forced to draft mediocre on-color cards and be scrapping together the last few playables to make a solid deck.
What to Avoid
I have talked a lot about drafting the open guild. That is a strategy that will always work, however I actually don't like drafting only one guild. Drafting a two color deck is very risky because you will lose out on an entire pack's worth of multicolored cards. Of course, there will be times when sticking to a single guild will work out but you will just get stone nothing out of one pack more often than not.
Drafting only one guild is usually bad because with three different packs there is much less synergy within guilds. For example, it is very unlikely that you will be able to draft a straight battalion deck. The same is true for populate, milling, and extort decks. Drafting only two colors will limit you to those strategies which will likely lead to a less powerful deck.
My favorite deck to draft is a two color deck with a light splash. Drafting that way will give you a plan in each pack. One pack will be to settle in on a guild or two, one pack will be to draft all of the important pieces of that guild, and one pack will be to grab the manafixing, splash cards, and filler that your deck needs.
I also feel that it is best to avoid drafting a pure aggro deck. It may be tempting to draft straight Boros with a deck full of Riot Pikers and combat tricks, but this format has considerably slowed down with the addition of Dragon's Maze. The decks to draft now are midrange and control. Many players will run Cluestones which means that their five, six, and seven drops will be coming down a turn earlier. There is an abundance of 2/4 creatures in this format which means that unlike in triple Gatecrash draft, most decks will be able to stabilize against an aggro swarm as early as turn four. In Gatecrash draft, topdecking a 2/1 creature on turn four or later was usually fine in a deck with all battalion creatures, but in Dragon's Maze, it's more embarrassing than anything.
The final thing to avoid is drafting more than three colors. Gates and Cluestones are pretty good at fixing your mana, but this format is not Ravnica block. We don't have efficient manafixing like Karoo lands and signets. Karoos and Signets allowed you to play any colors you wanted. For example, you could have a Selesnya deck and splash blue and red cards just off of two Izzet Boilerworks and an Izzet Signet because they added both colors of mana (as opposed to one or the other). In addition, you had access to both Signets and Karoo lands in all three packs. In DGR, you are only guaranteed manafixing in Dragon's Maze.
Drafting a four color deck is very difficult. You would need to prioritize Gates and Cluestones in the first pack, which will mean that you won't be able to settle on a color combination. Then, once you have all of your manafixing, there is no guarantee that you will get the cards you need in the next two packs. I've seen these decks work out very well before and have even drafted some myself but overall they are incredibly risky and will fail more often than not. Overall it's usually not worth it to draft gates so highly and lose out on taking powerful Dragon's Maze cards.
What's the Pick?
Let's take a look at a Dragon's Maze pack. Remember, this is pack one, pick one with no other information on what other people are drafting.
The first cards I would immediately rule out are the Mindstatic, Drown in Filth, Maze Rusher, Selesnya Guildgate, and all of the Cluestones. There is no reason to pick mana fixing in the first pack, especially because we don't know what we'll get passed. The other cards are borderline playable or only good in very specific decks and would never be considered for a first pick.
Feral Animist and Rot Farm Skeleton are the next to go. They are very mediocre creatures and will bind you to a guild immediately. While committing to a guild in the first pack is fine, doing so for these sub-par cards is not what we want to do.
Wind Drake and Thrashing Mossdog are very solid picks and I wouldn't fault anyone for taking them first. They are the only cards in the pack that leave you open. However I would rather take more of a chance and draft a more powerful creature.
This format is very complicated. I've done over thirty drafts and I'm still learning new things every day. It will be very interesting to see how we can apply what we know about this draft format to Team Sealed for Grand Prix Providence next week. I'm definitely excited to attend that event. Team Sealed is lots of fun and Dragon's Maze/Gatecrash/Return to Ravnica is an excellent limited format. I'm really looking forward to what our sealed and draft decks will look like. See you there!
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