RGD Draft: The Path Theory
Pro Tour Prague is this coming Friday. As a result, anyone who is anyone has been spending most, if not all, of their Magic time playing with new cards and trying to absorb and learn as much as they possibly can in order to get a leg up. You can imagine what kind of advantage some people will have in Prague. Some players might very well not have seen the new cards after their Pre-release along with possibly one or two extra local drafts. That makes preparation even more important for this event.
I'm not going to get into it but the “releasing a set one week before the PT” is so passé. Vs. System has done this in the past to great chagrin. No one really likes this idea, even if it is somewhat new and or creative it puts a lot of people at a great disadvantage (I would imagine) and it also creates a ton of added stress to an already stressful process (preparing for a Pro Tour.)
Anyway, the good news is I'm going to tell you what I've learned so far and introduce you to a theory that you will need to familiarize yourself with, until the format changes or until a better one comes along, and this theory I will refer to as the Path Theory.
There are a few things to consider before you attempt to understand this draft format. I'm not sure if this favors people who have played the first two sets or not, setting aside the fact that they are vastly more familiar with the cards being played. Every set in this block really shook up the draft format.
Ravnica had four Guilds: Selesnya, Dimir, Golgari and Boros. It was determined early that Green/White (Selesnya) beat all the decks, except Dimir; Dimir beat everything except for Boros, Boros didn't beat much (besides Dimir) and Golgari had some okay matchups but wasn't ever going to beat the best decks, and might lose to Boros too.
Guildpact had three guilds, and suddenly 7 guilds seemed like a lot more than four, (though one would think that three is in fact not that many more than 7) it offered many competitive combinations but ultimately the champion was crowned in Dimir+Izzet, in some combination. In second place was Golgari+Orzhov. The strength of the Gruul guild was a bit lacking. In combination with the powerful blue commons from Ravnica and the green mana fixing and fatties, it was viable but not great.
Now, finally, we have the three last guilds and a million more combinations (it would seem) but in reality, there are only a few viable combinations that provide you with ample opportunity to exploit the packs to your benefit. Sure, you could draft any three (or four) colors and come out okay, but I wouldn't recommend it…
And thus, the Path Theory…
Ideally, like I said, you want to be able to draft one guild per pack. There are a couple of exceptions to this, but if you aren't able to do this, your deck will lack either power or playable cards or both. Also, it's important to limit yourself. Unless you've got two Civic Wayfinders and a slew of double lands, three colors with a one-card splash, or simply three colors, should be your limit.
There are five “triangle” decks. Three-color combinations that provide you with ample picks in each pack, they are as follows:
Golgari / Gruul / Rakdos (Green/Red/Black)
Dimir / Orzhov / Azorius (Black/Blue/White)
Boros / Izzet / Azorius (White/Red/Blue)
Boros / Orzhov / Rakdos (White/Red/Black)
Dimir / Izzet / Rakdos (Black/Blue/Red)
Let's talk about this. Assuming you have no color or card preferences. And you're essentially looking to draft the best deck possible rather than one that suits your individual preferences, desires or thoughts on the format, you'll want to draft one of these color combinations.
Golgari in the first pack affords you sufficient access to both removal and fatties, and a smattering of mana fixing, if you so desire – including some of the very best commons in the set. These cards include, for example, Last Gasp, Civic Wayfinder, Golgari Rotwurm, and a slew of others. If you choose this path, you are somewhat limited. You have about two options, and one is a little risky. I attempted it twice and failed once, so I know it can work, but it leads to some packs where you have no picks and lots of wishing you could start over and/or drop from the draft. Of course, you'll certainly want to take cards like Galvanic Arc if they come along, as a general rule of thumb, which is hardly this article's focus. The very best removal is at a premium. Everyone will want it, but if you get your chance at it, grab it.
Ideally, you'll want to take Gruul in the second pack. Again, you'll have access to the same mix of cards, Streetbreaker Wurm, Wildsize and Pyromatics at the top of the list, depending on how you want to slant your mana (important consideration) cards like Scab-Clan Mauler and Gruul Scrapper might also be worthwhile late picks; but mana is very, very important. You can't just pick three colors, draft all the good cards, and have a deck. You'll have a deck, but it won't perform nearly as well as it should as a simple result of not being able to cast your spells when they need to be cast. Early mana considerations (like the aforementioned Scab-Clan Mauler ) are important. If your mana is slanted to support him you'll want to avoid early black commitments, and if at all possible all double-black mana costs in this archetype, except for those that are very, very good, or very, very expensive.
Finally, of course, you'll want to take Rakdos. There are tons of great cards in this set, and depending on how your mana worked out, the cheap green graft guys work well with your bloodthirst from the second set. Good removal in Seal of Doom and Cackling Flames, as well as Rakdos Ickspitter (mana, again) just to name a few.
The best part about drafting this color combination is that the three guilds are aligned in strategy; they all want to attack, all the cards help each other in this regard and it leads to a cohesive strategy, that, mana provided, is a solid deck. The greatest downside of this deck is that it lacks any way to draw extra cards, so you'll definitely want to get your hands on any cards that say ‘draw a card' (Wildsize ) and if you don't have a couple (2-4) karoo-double lands, you won't have a chance at winning the table due to mulligans alone. In summary, a combination of creatures and removal all aimed at winning the game faster rather slower is good, but has its weaknesses. Be sure to draft any and all cards that would allow for any form of card-advantage, as this deck is surely lacking in that department.
If you start Golgari and Gruul doesn't come, you can take the alternate path, which involves drafting no guild in the second pack, in order to be paid off in big rewards with Simic in the third pack. The key to success here is a steady flow of good monocolored cards, of which there are plenty, in the second pack. Cards like Silhana Starfletcher, Ghor-Clan Savage, the aforementioned Wildsize, Douse in Gloom, Repeal, Train of Thought and the like are all important to succeeding with this strategy as you are effectively giving up one guild. If you forsee this, or for another reason have decided to diversify and gone astray from straight Golgari in pack one, hopefully you picked up some Dimir to go with it, making this even easier to accomplish.
This is one of the few situations where I'd recommend not drafting a guild in each pack. This deck excels in different departments when compared with the Red/Black/Green beatdown deck, because it is not completely focused in one direction – Dimir, for the most part, is a control guild while Simic and Golgari are really not.
Confusing? A little, but to be honest, you'll probably need to apply the things you learn from this article before they're going to make a whole lot of sense to you. Golgari isn't the worst place to start and by no means the easiest, but it isn't particularly difficult either.
Next, let's take on Dimir. Dimir being a control guild, as I said, unfortunately doesn't mesh completely with one of the possible combinations it falls into. In the first pack, depending on what your plan is and what you see, you'll of course want to draft all the removal you can along with the efficient creatures ( Snapping Drake, Stinkweed Imp, etc) but depending on where you're planning on going and what you plan on doing, certain cards will make more sense to draft. If you plan on drafting Izzet and Rakdos, as a control deck, you'll definitely want to take the Vedalken Entrancer that no one else will be able to make much use of. But if you're planning on going Azorius and Orzhov, a more beatdown-oriented deck, you'll probably want to pick mostly flying creatures and cards that are generally of a less defensive nature.
In the second pack, again, you'll have choices to make. Although both decks are essentially defined by their plan, that is, your picks will make sense depending on what you're trying to accomplish, it's difficult to stray from the plan. It would be difficult to draft a defensive Black/White/Blue deck and have any success with this color combination. Ideally you'll have a good mana curve with lots of aggressive flyers including (hopefully) Blind Hunter and Azorius First-Wing in the third set; the combination of fast flyers and removal, including Pillory of the Sleepless and Plumes of Peace provides for a great aggressive game plan.
By contrast, most of your Blue/Black/Red decks will aim to control the game, which makes it slightly more difficult to draft because in the third pack your guild is aimed at attacking rather than controlling the game. It's possible though, because the same great removal that makes the Green/Red/Black combination Thrive are still great in this deck; Rakdos Ickspitter is still a welcome addition and there are plenty of good monocolored blue cards, even if some are uncommon, that this archetype is easily draftable and often successful.
Lastly, the third guild and my personal favorite to start with is Boros. Boros decks are a bit easier to draft as long as you're careful with your mana. Much like the Black/Green/Red archetype, Black/Red/White and even Black/Red/Blue (mostly) have similar goals, and both allow you to pick the same cards throughout the first pack. Ideally you'll want to take all the removal and utility creatures, followed by flyers and lastly just the “rest” (Veteran Armorer, for example.) Depending on how your first pack goes you'll know what you need to do for the rest of the draft.
I personally believe Boros (and many agree) to be the strongest guild in Ravnica, relative to the entire block. If you get a high concentration of the good Red and White (and gold) cards in the first pack you should be cruising. The biggest difficulty has to be keeping the mana decent in a deck like this, avoid double color-costing cards outside of your ‘main' color(s) when possible, especially the ones that don't convoke – unless you're sure you can splash, i.e. go UWr instead of UWR. Not all cardpools afford that possibility, although it is certainly preferred. The final pack ties up with some of the strongest guilds; Rakdos and Azorius both have absurd cards for your deck, not to mention tons of removal and cheap flyers, depending on what you need and open…
So that's it, in a nutshell… well, it would be, except…. What happened to Selesnya?
What did happen to Selesnya? I'm not too sure. Maybe someone in the future league was winning with some GW configuration that we haven't found yet (seems unlikely…to say the least…) but honestly, I can't see Selesnya's fate being purposeful; there's literally nothing you can do with Selesnya to get a solid three color deck, you are literally required to go into a fourth color, and that means your deck is usually Selesnya, Izzet and Azorius. This is not the prettiest configuration. This deck works if you end up with something like UWR+ a couple green cards and fine mana fixers, but when your deck has Loxodon Hierarch, Izzet Chronarch, Streetbreaker Wurm, Isperia the Inscrutable, Novijen Sages (and that certainly wasn't all, but I can't remember what else I had…) and no mana fixers except for three rare dual lands that were luckily passed to you in this practice draft, it certainly isn't pretty. I did manage to 3-0 with that pile based solely on drawing my mana twice before losing twice to it, over and over. (6-3 games, of course.) Nice deck. So of course, I can't recommend drafting Selesnya.
There are two cards I'd take first at Prague, Selesnya Guildmage (as a GG 2/2 beater with a mild-good ability) and Glare of Subdual. I'd take Loxodon Hierarch if it was the only card in the pack, but I don't think I'll pass as much as a Peel from Reality for it; it's that bad.
That does it for me, so wish me luck in Prague. I'm either not going to need it, or need it so bad that your best wishes won't help ;-) I hope this has shed some light on a budding but relevant (for a long time to come, too!) draft format that has some interesting twists going for it.
I'll be back next week with a more traditional (constructed, probably…) article or a Pro Tour report, depending on if I was right or not… until then may all your rares be excellent (but not Green/White!)