Okay, I can’t take it anymore. I wanted to take a step back from writing because I just didn’t feel like writing anymore, but I am starting to lose my mind. This could possibly be the most misunderstood draft format since triple Mirrodin. I was gearing up to write a post in Scott Wills forum about things I disagreed with when I realized that there was so much to say I might as well put it in an article. More than that, listening to Sam Gomersall call Green the best color in both his article and in an interview at the PT nearly made me pass out. You won’t get any pick orders here, but you will be saved from all the misinformation that has been being spread about the format.
I don’t know if it is just the Brits that have it all wrong or if this is some sort of pandemic, but if you want to consistently win in this format Green is not the way to do it. Let me give you a little background on my research for this article before I get to the meat and potatoes.
I was talking to PT Atlanta finalist Don Smith online and he was complaining about the outrageous prices of flying to London from Florida. I suggested he come to Albany for a week before the PT and I would drive him to JFK where he can get a much more reasonable flight. He invites Bill Stead along and Bill invites his Roommate Eric Cunningham. Along with my friends Dan Connelly and Wil Harris and some various guest stars we had a solid test group. Sadly Adam Chambers and Tim Aten decided to go to Ohio and test for no apparent reason, but I am sure they had a good one.
The testing process started out as all Limited testing processes should. We were looking for a reason to play Green. Green, by its nature, is a terrible color for Limited. I can only remember four draft formats in the modern era (Mirage forward) where I wanted to be a Green mage: Saga/Saga/Legacy, Invasion/Invasion/Invasion, Mirrodin/Darksteel/Fifth Dawn, and Champions/Champions/Betrayers, and only in Saga/Saga/Legacy do I feel it was the best color. In all the other formats it was merely acceptable.
What about Green’s nature makes it such a horrible color? It doesn’t do anything. It plays men and can make them bigger. Sure it can offer you the option of playing more than 2 colors, but when one of them has to be Green, why would you want to? It’s only form of board control is completely dependent on your opponent. They need to attack into a blocker or block an attacker while you have the pump spell in hand. This means that you must get bounce if you are Blue, kill if you are Red or Black, and Cage of Hands if you are White.
I don’t understand why people are saying that Green for so amazing in the last set. You got a three-drop that you can’t attack or block with since you need it to fuel your deck, a good pump spell, and some clunky five-drops. The Green Shinen is the only really exciting card in the color, and now that the cat’s out of the bag on that one, you can’t realistically expect to see it. If you are Red/Green there are 3 Commons that you’d have to take over the Shinen, and one of them is another freakin’ five-drop!
To make matters worse for this incredibly clunky color, you lose yet another pack of Sakura-Tribe Elder and Orochi Sustainer. Green simply cannot succeed without these cards unless you manage to pick up a healthy number of Kami of the Hunts and Gnarled Masses.
If you don’t get the Green in Betrayers, your deck will be worthless unless you get really lucky and pick up two of the two-drop mana accelerators and a Springcaller or two. A big issue with the two-drops is that you must take Kodama’s Might over them because the card is so powerful.
So to sum up the disaster that is Green, you need no less than two specific commons from the first set, at least two of two other commons from the second, and I dunno what you are looking for in the third set because all of the cards stink. Oh in case you think this is easier than I am making it sound, try pulling this off while trying to cut off an incredible deep color in Champions that is being touted at the best color in the format by top level pros. If I didn’t know better (and I don’t), I’d say that Sam was deliberately trying to skew the metagame so he can win more drafts on MTGO.
One thing that I do agree with most of the pros on is that Black is bad. Much like Green, way too many things have to go right in the first two packs for Black to work. You need good creatures, good removal, discard is a must now, and you need a finisher. Add to that the fact that it only got one card in the last set with Kagemaro’s Clutch. Kuro’s Taken and Empty Grave Kami are fine, but as a second best card in a color, both are a bit embarrassing. To be honest, I am fairly sure the second best Black card in the third set is Sink into Takenuma, a card that Scott doesn’t even mention in his commons in his article. He also neglects Death Denied, which is incredibly powerful, though I am still not entirely sure where it lives in the pick order.
Let’s break down the Black requirements now. First, good creatures… Oops! Black doesn’t have any. The best you’ll see in the common slot in pack 1 is Scuttling Death, and believe me this format is not short on five-drops. Your next best creature is Gibbering Kami and then it trails off to mediocre two-drops. Betrayers offers two fantastic creatures in Okiba-Gang Shinobi and Takenuma Bleeder, but again, Okiba-Gang is no longer a secret, so if you don’t see it in the first 3 picks, you probably won’t see it. Please don’t believe the hype, Okiba-Gang is not as good as Horobi’s Whisper, it’s not really all that close. You can take Gang over Whisper if you already got four removal spells out of pack one, but that doesn’t make it a better card, just a better pick in that rare circumstance, but I digress. In the third set you get Empty Grave Kami. All this adds up to your needing creatures in your other color, and when you tie your hands in a color like that it is usually disastrous. This is the primary reason that even though Black and Green are the two worst colors in the format, you should attempt to draft them together since they fill each other holes so well.
Removal is tricky. If you draft it too early you become inundated with it, especially if you are Black/Red. If you draft it too late, you may not see any. All my decks seem to end up buried in removal, or frighteningly short on it. The good news about removal though is there is at least one very powerful removal card in each set, and the first set has three.
Probably the best part about Okiba-Gang is that it fills two niches well. It is a decent creature as Black creatures go, and it is the best discard you have available. Discard, however, I always have plenty of. As much as I like it, there is only so much room for spells in a deck. That means I can’t play all my Distresses, Waking Nightmares, Psychic Spears, and Sink into Takenumas. I like all these cards quite a bit and I feel all are playable, but only so many can actually fit into the deck. That is why despite being the second most powerful card in the third set, you often don’t take it because it isn’t that much better than Waking Nightmare. Three Tragedies may be an uncommon, but that’s another card that always seems to find its way into my draft. I think the best way to choose your discard spells is to use them to fill spots in your curve. This means that despite the raw power of Three Tragedies, it usually won’t make it into your deck as you won’t want to have too many five-drops.
Now we get to the biggest hole of all. I don’t recommend drafting Black, but if you do, take Dance of Shadows as soon as you see it. People horribly undervalue this card. Devouring Greed just isn’t what it used to be, so you will need Dance or Hired Muscle in your Black deck (or a good late game in your other color) to really compete.
So while I was drafting Green and Black (together and separately) for a while, I quickly learned to simply ignore cards of these colors in booster. In fact by the end of the testing session, the only cards most of us were willing to go into Black or Green for were Kokusho and Kodama of the South Tree. Anything else would be ignored. If you think I am lying, watch me open a pack with Strength of Cedars and the next best non-Black, non-Green card being Floating-Dream Zubera and see what I take. Same goes for Kiku, Night’s Flower.
So that’s the bad of the format. You don’t have to be quite as extreme as Don, Bill, and myself, but I really do recommend avoiding these colors whenever possible even if you don’t intend to force.
Now the good… I’ll start with the best of the best. Blue is simply incredible. I’m not sure exactly why Scott thinks there is a dearth of commons in Betrayers, but the color is rather deep when you are combining it with Red. In fact the basic plan is to force Red/Blue using Blue/White as plan B and White/Red aggro as plan C. All the colors except Red are at their best in pack 2. This means that the only color you should be letting the player to your right put you in is Red. Other than that, you want to control the draft. The easiest way to control the draft is by forcing Blue. Blue is very good in the second pack. And the cards you need to make it work are redundant and present in every set. The best part about Blue is that it is that it is fairly shallow in the first pack, and some of the best cards aren’t even seen as signals. Scott doesn’t even mention two great Blue cards in the first pack that won’t really be seen as signals. I can somewhat understand leaving off Floating-Dream Zubera, although to not talk about how his stock rose with the increased importance of hand size is a bit careless. He also left off River Kaijin which is just insane. There are few card more important that this guy in Blue/Red. He can make a mediocre Blue/Red deck a powerhouse.
You can cut off Blue very easily and gobble it all up in the second pack. There are 5 commons in the second pack that I almost always want in my deck. Obviously Shimmering Glasskite and Ninja of the Deep Hours are awesome, but if you are undervaluing Mistblade Shinobi, Veil of Secrecy and Phantom Wings you are doing your draft a grave disservice. Also, when you cut off Blue you will be surprised how late you will see Jetting Glasskite.
Blue is not the best color of the best three, but it is the best to draft as it isn’t hard to do, and you can go in forcing and it will almost always work out. You may leave pack one with 2-3 playable Blue cards, and the deck will still come together. I give you my personal guarantee.
White is just awesome. Its cards are great in control decks and in aggro decks. It’s deep in all three sets. The first pack has four awesome cards and it doesn’t significantly drop off after that. The danger with this, obviously, is that it becomes very hard to cut off White. The problem with that is you need the White in the second set. Waxmane Baku and Moonlit Strider are two of the most powerful commons in the block. Split-Tail Miko, once touted as the second best White common in Betrayers before falling behind the power of Moonlit Strider (which I am now trying to justify not putting in the number 1 spot), is still a powerful card once active. White’s cards are so versatile it can be drafted almost exclusively on power level with only slight worries about curve if only because this always seems to take care of itself.
The problems with White are that it is incredibly difficult to cut off and it is fairly weak in the last set. It isn’t Black weak, but it is the only the third best color and that’s only because Green and Black are so god awful. This may sound strange, but odds are you’ll only be able to draft a truly powerful white deck if the person to your right is also drafting White. Since the third pack doesn’t matter all that much, having a White drafter on your right is an asset to your deck since it becomes easier to cutoff and therefore get all the goodies you want out of pack 2.
Another thing to consider when making the choice to go into White is that the best card in the third set is White and it is in the uncommon slot. This means that if you are fed White, and it seems like there isn’t another direction to go in, you could still open or be passed arguably the best card in the Block (after Jitte), and certainly the best card in Saviors in Charge across the Araba.
So Green, Blue, and White are at their best in the second pack. Those are the colors that you need to cut off if you want a good deck. I still advise avoiding Green, but if you decide to draft it, make sure you are cutting it. Black is at its best in the first pack which is what truly makes it a disastrous color. You need to take the cards out of the first pack, but you get very little value in cutting it and you won’t get any gifts in the last pack. That brings us to the one part of your draft you have no control over, but can be by far the most rewarding.
Red is deceptively deep in the first pack if you are using the “force Blue” strategy. What this means to your deck is you can go to the ropes cutting Blue in the first pack, then pick up some late gems like Soul of Magma. This card is simply incredible in Blue/Red, and I routinely see is 8th, 9th or later. There’s no way to control or force Red, all you can really do is hope it is being passed to you. If it is, then you will be richly rewarded. Red plays host to the three best commons in the set in the last pack. Geoffrey Siron showed us at the finals draft in London exactly what happens when you are passed Red – you wind up with the best deck of all time. Now clearly that draft was a bit of an aberration, but it is merely an extreme example of a powerful concept. If Red is being passed to you, draft Red. You don’t even need to worry about cutting it. Sure you might miss out on a Torrent of Stone or two in the 2nd pack, but so what? You still have access to all the Blue, White, or (shutter) Green cards you want in the second pack if you have cut these colors effectively. Then in the last pack you get to drink from the Horn of Valhalla.
Blue/Red and Green/x are the only two color combinations where you can really make your focus about Spiritcraft (Spirit/Arcane triggers). However it is still quite dangerous to try to force the issue. You don’t want to make your deck reliant on these things then have them not come through. These two color archetypes make it easy though, as all the best cards are Spirits or Arcane spells anyway. The triggers are just gravy.
So there you go. I have led you through the forest of British rubbish. Use this information wisely and in good health. I’m going to give you some specific tips and tricks to use while doing this.
Tip #1: When you open a pack with Soratami Mirror-Guard and Yamabushi’s Flame, take the flier. Flame is certainly the better card, but you really want to be cutting Blue and cutting Red is meaningless. You are either passed Red or you aren’t. I’m not sure this is why Fujita made this pick, but he was still correct to make it.
Tip #2: Jetting Glasskite is better than Kira, Great Glasspinner. This pick has come up for me only twice in all the drafts I have done, but if it comes up for you make sure you take the correct card. Kira is more vulnerable. Even if they manage to make the Kite targetable, they still need to kill a 4/4 creature. No flier can realistically shut down the Kite either. I know it is counterintuitive to take the uncommon of a cycle over the rare, but trust me, it is correct.
Tip #3: If you are going Blue/White, take Moonlit Strider over Ninja of the Deep Hours. People are still undervaluing Strider. I think this card is so good that even if you have enablers up the wazoo for the Ninja, you will still get more value out of the Strider.
Tip #4: Print runs are continuous through packs. This means that if you open a Soul of Magma in your boost and you aren’t passed one, there is a good chance there was one opened to your left. When you see one, often there are two, and when your deck has two you can literally build your deck around them. Make sure you keep this in mind when you are drafting your deck.
Tip #5: Shimmering Glasskite and Ninja of the Deep Hours come on a print run together. If you see the Ninja in a pack early, then there is a chance you haven’t successfully cut off Blue and you should consider going White/Red if it is open.