So now that the Pro Tour has come and gone, it is safe for the pros to reveal their drafting secrets – and here is the plan that I had for the Pro Tour, all laid out for you.
First, I was fortunate enough to get access to a beta Magic Online account, so I had access to drafting Champions/Betrayers/Saviors for free…. Which, of course, I took every opportunity to do. There were a select few of us who would draft all night on beta, doing 3v3s in the casual room as we figured that this would be better practice than drafting in the queues, because some of the guys in the draft room were less than optimal. So we whiled away the wee hours every night just drafting with a crew of about ten of us.
This was the best testing I had ever done for a Limited Pro Tour, as we had all the best Limited minds in the world just drafting non-stop and sharing all of our ideas with no holds barred. We threw a lot of ideas around – and by the end of the beta test, we had a really good understanding of what was up with CBS draft, and we were confident as a group of getting some good results.
There are several major changes that Saviors has given us; Green has gone from the worst to the best color in just the space of one booster, every other color has become a lot less spirit-based (whereas Green seems to be all about spiritcraft these days), and Black and White have taken a big hit as they used to be the deepest colors but Saviors has given them nothing.
So here is what I learned about my favorite archetypes in this new-ish format.
I think this is the best color combination, as I have a major preference for Green at the moment and Red seems to be the natural partner. Now whenever I get passed a third-pick Moss Kami or some other good Green card like a Kodama’s Might, I’ll be looking to draft some sort of Green deck. This is simply because Green is so good in pack 3 that if you are being passed it in pack 1, it is reasonable to assume that you will receive it in pack 3 also – and whenever that happens, I want to be in on it.
Obviously, most decks need removal so pairing Green with Red or Black is the next thing to do, and I think there are several reasons why Red is better. Most Green decks tend to want to be able to play at least nine to ten forests, and a lot of the good Black removal has double-Black in its casting cost. The Red removal, on the other hand, is all single Red and is therefore a lot easier to run off of seven or eight mountains.
I have also found that because Red and Green are both very strong in Saviors, you are given a lot of options as to which card to pick from each booster in pack 3. This is a very good thing to have in the last set, as it will allow you to fill the holes in your mana curve, increase your creature count, supplement your removal, or fix whatever other problems your first thirty cards had.
Red may not have that much spiritcraft, which is what Green really wants, it does have some good synergy with Elder Pine of Jukai – Spiraling Embers, and Serpent Skin/Sokenzan Spellblade. These are both game winners and are all commons, so they come up more often than you might think. The Red cards that are spirits are made especially good in this deck, such as Kami of the Fire’s Roar and Glitterfang, because Green has the most triggers – and the more powerful ones, too.
This is the only non-Green deck that is really competitive compared to the best decks at the moment. The addition of Saviors has made this good deck even more powerful now, with several outstanding commons and uncommons.
Most U/W decks that I have had recently tend to have a very solid mana curve of fliers with some bounce spells. Now, I know that this is just the traditional way that U/W decks have always been, but I found that this wasn’t the case in CCC and CCB; the U/W decks back then tended to be more about holding the ground with a Kabuto Moth or Kitsune Blademaster and then flying over with just one guy at a time. With Saviors, we have some very aggressive three-mana, two-power fliers in Moonwing Moth and Moonfolk Illusionist that get the ball rolling, then come the heavy beaters such as Secretkeeper and Shinen of Flight’s Wings.
Now that there’s a better mana curve to draft, cards like Split-Tail Miko and the ninjas are slightly worse. This is due to the fact that they will set you back on your board development if you wish to maximize their effects. Not to say that they are bad, although I have kept both Ninja of the Deep Hours and Mistblade Shinobi in my sideboard recently. Deep Hours is really quite bad when you have no one-drops, no two-drops with evasion, and a lot of creatures to cast turns 3 through 5.
Mistblade Shinobi, on the other hand, might be more likely to make your deck, as the difference between one and two mana to Ninjutsu is pretty relevant – and since there are fewer shots at Consuming Vortex with one less Champs booster, bounce has become hard to get hold of.
This also means that Phantom Wings is a much higher pick now because the last set offers you nothing in the way of bounce spells. Most of the time I tend to have a 10-8 mana base in favor of Plains to increase the chances of casting Moonwing Moth on turn 3 and making Plow Through Reito a little better; this makes double-Blue spells slightly worse (like Kami of Twisted Reflection and Eye of Nowhere) unless you feel they will be necessary.
This is my favorite archetype right now, as I love casting a spirit on turn 5 and seeing three triggered abilities going onto the stack. It is easily achievable in the average B/G deck when you do things like take Kami of the Hunt over Order of the Sacred Bell (which I believe is the correct pick in all Green decks now anyway).
While drafting on the beta server, this is the deck that I drafted the most by far, and I had really good results with it. Any time I opened a Thief of Hope or even took a first-pick Scuttling Death, I was looking to go Green so as to maximize the spirit aspect of these early picks. It is so easy to generate card advantage when every creature from turn 4 onwards will soulshift back another, which this deck will do almost every time.
The only non-spirit creature that I really liked in this deck amongst commons and uncommons was Matsu-Tribe Sniper, but seeing as he usually comes in the same run as Gnarled Mass on Magic Online, I always took the spirit. I even remember going so far as to take Dripping-Tongue Zubera over Order of the Sacred Bell and Petalmane Baku over Sakura-Tribe Springcaller… although I wouldn’t normally advise this.
Petalmane Baku does make it easier to cast those awkward double-Black removal spells and I was always looking to have one in my deck… oh, heck. Just trust me on this; he’s a hidden gem that no one understands.
I had never given much thought to drafting U/G…. Which is obviously silly, as every option should be explored. This was until Grand Prix: Bologna, and after a miserable day 1 I found myself “side event drafting” with some Frenchies. They had said that in their testing U/G was the best deck by far, and they certainly put forward a good argument.
With the absence of a pack of Champs, there was also one less pack of the Kabuto Moths and Frostwielders that used to give U/G decks nightmares. But now that there is no common like that in Saviors that can dominate the game if not removed quickly (and one less pack from which your opponent could pick up those annoying ones from), U/G is a lot more viable.
For the record, Elder Pine of Jukai is way better than Shinen of Life’s Roar in this deck, as the Blue arcane cards mean it is quite possible to filter through your whole deck by about turn 8-9. Descendent of Soramaro is also a very good combo with Elder Pine, as you will dig through to the part of your deck that is all spells very quickly if you are given a few turns of free range.
You might have noticed that there is a bit of a repetitiveness to the cards I’m mentioning here in U/G; that’s ’cause Elder Pine is the absolute stones and should never be passed under any circumstances. I have never had the chance to run Azusa, Lost but Seeking yet in this deck – although it seems like he might be okay, because the Sakura-Tribe Scout is perfectly playable with the Moonfolk and Elder Pines that you might pick up.
Bounce spells are very very important in this deck, as it has no other forms of removal (barring Mystic Restraints). The premium bounce spell is always Consuming Vortex, but I would be more than happy to be running two Phantom Wings, as it can multi-task by making a fatty a giant fatty beats machine by casting it on your own dude. I have attacked with many flying unkillable 7/6 Okina Nightwatches in my time – and in this deck he is almost always large.
It is quite hard to build this deck, as it requires not many people to be drafting these colors around you more so than the other top decks. But when you are passed a good U/R deck, by gum is it good.
It cannot abuse soulshift at all, but obviously Blue has a lot of ways to make up for card parity (I don’t think Counsel of the Soratami has been in my sideboard in the last month or so). The sheer amount of Blue fliers means that you can save your removal for only very important creatures that your opponent might have – and a bounce spell will often be just as good as a removal spell (and sometimes better as it will kill a guy of any size for a turn).
There is a lot of hidden synergy, too. It mostly revolves around having a Frostwielder in play and being able to untap him a bunch of times with Teller of Tales or Freed from the Real, which is obviously the stones. I have seen Freed from the Reel on a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, too, which is very unfair.
Most of the picks in the early sets haven’t really changed that much; it’s just that the deck has held its power level from CCC and it is now one of the best I believe.
You might notice that amongst these top 5 decks are every combination of red, Green and Blue – which are, for me at least, the three most powerful colors. Not to say that White and Black are unplayable, but they have certainly taken a really big hit as far as depth of top-rated commons go. In CCB, W/B was my favorite deck to draft, as it had so much synergy with spiritcraft and soulshift and was arguably the deepest two colors in both sets. The problem it now has is that there are no good spirits in pack 3. Not that there aren’t okay cards to play – far from it – but they’re not spirits, so your average W/B deck is now just a bunch of cards with no synergy.
My next two least favorite color combinations are R/B and W/R. I can’t remember the last time I ever won a match with either of these decks and it has got to the point that I will not take a fourth-pick Befoul if my first three picks are red, no matter how open Black seems to be. W/R is a little better, but not by much; it can never be drafted as a control deck, but most of the time doesn’t have enough punch to win by turn 8 every game. That’s not to say that these decks will always be bad, but I make a real effort to avoid them and I would suggest that you do the same.