So for anyone that has followed the changes in how Limited is tackled, you have probably noticed just how big of an impact changes over the past few years have had. We began by reversing the packs, giving players access to the new cards first. This was awesome because it created a difference in Limited environments simply because the “flagships” you were used to drafting around now show up in pack two and three, forcing you to adapt in that first pack.
If you think back to older Limited formats, the second set of a block would often get overshadowed. How can you focus on affinity for your islands when actual affinity is running around and crushing everything? If you think back to Theros draft, monoblack was one of the best archetypes assuming you could draft it. Once Born of the Gods came out, if it had been drafted as pack three, you can imagine not much changing. People will still take those Gray Merchants pretty early on and then when the weaker devotion to black stuff comes in pack three, they can nitpick what they want and ignore a bunch of unplayables as their deck has already come together.
When Born of the Gods comes first, however, everything changes. If you want to be the monoblack drafter, you can try to do so, but you are risking quite a bit as the flagship you are looking for, Gray Merchant, is nowhere to be seen in that first pack. This means you are putting your money on opening and seeing enough copies of that card in pack two and three to be worth it. This also means you need the table to cooperate and not take those same cards.
Flash forward to Khans of Tarkir, when the format did not contain Fate Reforged. My favorite strategy, far and away, was to go five-color control. The idea here was simple: you take most morphs that you see and use them as the basis for your deck. Because every morph has a colorless casting option, stumbling out of the gates with some poor mana would not matter as much because you can just drop Gray Ogres in the meantime to establish a board presence and to buy yourself time for better mana.
As Fate Reforged enters the mix though, many of the incentives to going five color have left the format. For example, while Fate Reforged has manifested cards, it contains no actual morphs of its own. This means that the basis for your stability in five-color control is one pack less than it used to be and that pack shows up first, putting you into a similar risky situation as the Gray Merchants from before.
Additionally, while morphs have been removed in the first pack, they have been replaced by some pretty aggressive options. Two-drops are much more important in this new draft environment and drafting aggressive two and three-color decks is much more available as a result. Naturally, five-color control can struggle against these fast strategies as it needs a certain threshold of early removal and defenders to reach a point in the game where its mana is solid and it is casting more powerful spells than the opponent. Gaining an Advantage
While the above shifts in the meta have made the environment a little more hostile toward five-color control, it has also left the door open for one or two really solid five-color control decks should they be drafted correctly.
As we discussed before, the format has very much shifted to one where people prefer two-color decks. Whether that be as straightforward as a black/white warriors list that people were trying to get to work in triple Khans (and now is actually good) or some blue/red aggro deck with a ton of tricks and evasion to sneak in damage, most of the two-color decks are more aggressive than not.
This implies a couple of things that we can use to our advantage. First of all, lands that enter the battlefield tapped are much worse in an aggressive shell than in a five-color shell. This means that these two-color decks are more likely to pass up on early mana fixing than any control deck will. While people are not just going to pass on-color duals or duals for their splash, they are much more likely to pass half-color duals early or to take a strong card over a dual land these days. This means a larger pool of mana fixing for you, should you be willing to take it aggressively.
And the lessened importance of mana fixing in these other decks also means less of a chance that they can cast the powerful three color cards that do show up in Khans of Tarkir. For example, let’s say you are black/white warriors and you are going into pack 3 with a solid deck but no fixing for a potential splash. When you open up Butcher of the Horde and a Mardu Hordechief in your pack three, you probably won’t even debate the pick and will just slam the strong monocolored card. Should you take Butcher of the Horde here, you now need to find sufficient mana fixing in the last pack to justify playing it. If you went completely natural and tried to run three mountains or something to support it, the integrity of your mana base becomes severely compromised in the process and you are likely to lose games by just not being able to cast your early spells.
This dynamic lends to a lot of the powerful or even bomb-level cards with difficult casting costs floating around the table much longer than they would have in the all Khans environment. Last night in the one draft I did, I saw a Jeskai Ascendancy, Mantis Rider, and Abzan Ascendancy all wheel in pack two or three because no one could afford to dip into those colors. Additionally, a third pick Savage Knuckleblade in pack two and a 5th pick Butcher of the Horde in pack three were both quite the reward for having taken mana fixing early and established myself across four colors solidly. The Flow of the Draft
This last point is actually important and while I have mentioned it in the past, I feel it bears repeating: Five-color control is a concept and not a literal interpretation. By this I simply mean that just because your mindset is on five-colors does not mean your deck needs to always be five colors. Much of the time, it is going to be correct to limit yourself to four or sometimes even three colors but you can still be using the draft style and deck building style of a five-color control deck in the process.
Most often, in the two set block, I find myself sticking to a core wedge and then branching out for cards that are worth splashing. So while most people are playing two color decks and then maybe splashing a powerful wedge card or two, we are effectively starting off at a wedge and then splashing things outside of that.
|Butcher of the Horde||
If you manage to keep 85% or so of your card within your main wedge color, this allows you to best set up your mana for those splashes. Imagine we are a Jeskai base and I pick up that Butcher of the Horde 5th pick, like in the scenario from above. In order to play the Butcher, I can have a relatively straightforward Jeskai mana base with a few gain life lands and maybe a Tri-land and now I am not only gaining access to the strong Jeskai cards that many two-color players are passing up, but I am also leeching on to the Mardu side of things.
This means that while my mana might be slightly worse than these two-color decks, the power I am picking up goes beyond just a single wedge and begins to hit two or three wedges while they have access to none. It is also vitally important than the mana fixing in this format happens to gain you life, which is a nice cushion to have against these aggressive decks. Lands Ahoy
Perhaps the biggest mental shift from drafting “traditionally” in this format is having the willingness to take lands high. Being willing to ignore a mediocre creature or removal spell in favor of a dual land, perhaps even one you as of yet do not have the colors of, will often make or break your five-color draft.
If, at the end of a draft, I have a pair of lands I don’t end up playing because I never got passed a red card worth splashing, that is fine. I generally have plenty of playables due to reaching into so many colors that spending a few picks on lands, even ones you don’t use, is fine. What will not work, however, is having a lack of those lands. If I have awesome spells across five colors but only a trio of mana fixing lands, my deck is going to fail far too often. Your mana must be a priority if you want to play with all of the sweet toys that are going to get passed your way.
In general, I want to aggressively take lands early whenever the pack is missing a premium removal spell, creature, or bomb. By taking lands with your 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 9th picks let’s just say, you are already well padded with fixing going forward. Those early picks are the ones where everyone is taking the best card anyway, so missing out on something awesome is not likely to happen. As the draft progresses and people settle in on their colors though, now the chance for gifts goes well up.
Of course, I am not saying to ignore lands in packs two and three. They are still very important, but you will have a better idea of what your deck is lacking and can start picking up more color-appropriate lands while also knowing how highly to value certain effects. If my deck is really lacking in early game defense, for example, I will definitely be taking an Archer’s Parapet over a dual land, but I might go ahead and pass up that Woolly Loxodon in favor of a dual because my late game is already solid as is.
Tri-lands are substantially better than dual lands and should be viewed as such. I will not pass a bomb or tier one removal spell most of the time, but your Abzan Guides, Throttles, Bring Lows etc. are all no match for a tri-land of just about any color combination. Adjusting Card Evaluations
While drafting any of the multicolor control decks, there are a few things you need to be looking out for that other strategies might get away with. First of all, you should aggressively dock points on any spells that have two of the same mana symbol on them. Ancestral Vengeance is basically unplayable in five color control, for example. Meanwhile, slower, late-game options like Aven Surveyor are still quite strong, but try to keep them within your core wedge colors and not on the splash.
I find it pretty important to have access to some sort of sweeper in this new format. Death Frenzy is perhaps the easiest one to pick up, as the faster decks actively do not want it and green/black is not a popular color combination. Pyrotechnics and Arc Lightning will often fill this role just fine as well. You essentially want something to reset the board after you are likely to lose quite a few life points setting up your mana. Of course, rare sweepers will do the trick as well, but are less likely to show up.
Beyond those two distinctions, it is also important to focus your curve around three mana. Because morphs are the basis for your creature count, three mana is likely to be the spot on your curve where you have the most action. As a result, weak three mana spells, such as Banners, are completely unplayable in my opinion. Your nonmorph three-drops should mostly consist of cards that will be strong at any point in the game because there is a good chance you will be playing a morph on that turn. Wrap Up
I find this format with Fate Reforged added to be pretty interesting. So many people are quick to switch into the two-color aggro deck mindset that there is some real benefits to going against that grain. That all said, a strong red/white aggro deck or blue/red aggro deck should still be something you have in your repertoire, so certainly do not ignore other decks altogether. Preference is always fine, but the mark of a great drafter is one that can adapt to any situation, so be vigilant! Thanks for reading!