Modern Masters 2015 around twelve times, and I’ve learned a lot. I had the worst record I’ve ever had in my first five drafts, starting out 3-12. I’m usually good at formats
that only use old cards since I’ve played with all of them before, and my decks mostly looked like good versions of the linear decks that seemed seeded
into the set. I was really confused by how much I was losing. Despite my frustration and confusion, I managed to take some lessons out of my losses, and
I’m 14-4 in my last six drafts, and now I feel like I have a decent handle on the format. Fortunately, I think most of these lessons are things I can
There’s a good chance you’ve seen great versions of fully pushed linear archetypes crush a draft. Maybe someone first picked Cranial Plating and affinity
fell into their lap, or maybe they ended up with two Devouring Greeds and sixteen Spirits. This can happen, and those decks will often crush the
opposition, and it’s what I thought you had to try to do when I first played the format.
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looked for all the synergies that were built into the set, and I thought I’d have an early advantage by knowing exactly what those were and how they were
supported and trying to draft to them, but that’s not quite the right approach.
Taking a linear card or two and putting blinders on to force that archetype is the easiest way to have a horrible deck in this format. The fully linear
decks will be much worse if two people are in them than if you have one to yourself, and it’s often hard to know if you’re fighting for something before
you move in if you’re trying to commit early. This format rewards flexibility–the packs are deep and the cards are powerful, so you’re not going to be
scraping for playables, so it’s okay to shift position and abandon a couple early picks.
There are enough linear strategies that at least one of them is going to go basically untouched in almost every draft, and my approach is to try to take
advantage of that fact. I want to take flexible cards like generic bombs, removal, and even nonbasic lands early, and then fall into a linear archetype
based on what happens to be left over in the second half on the packs.
The biggest breakthrough for me was realizing that you don’t have to be fully committed to a theme; in fact, you often don’t want to be. The difference for
me was best illustrated through the artifacts in the set, but once I saw it there, I could see it in other places as well.
There are two ways to draft artifacts: You can draft metalcraft or you can draft affinity. This is a peculiar distinction–these are overlapping mechanics
that push the same thing, and yes, this set includes both, but they all want each other and want the same cards, so what’s the point of distinguishing?
Well, if your deck has a lot of cards like Qumulox and Myr Enforcer, you’d probably ideally like to have something like seventeen+ artifacts. If your deck
is trying to take advantage of Dispatch and Rusted Relic, after you have 13-15, your cards will reliably work, and you’re not really getting paid for
additional commitment, so playing a Runed Servitor over a Sunspear Shikari in your three equipment deck because it’s an artifact doesn’t make sense.
Metalcraft decks are the decks that incorporate a linear theme or subtheme with enough cards that they can take advantage of synergies while still having
room for off-plan powerful cards and removal. Affinity decks try to exploit the cards that pay you for going all-in on a theme. In this format, metalcraft
decks are the fair decks, and affinity decks are the unfair decks. Remember that, in Magic, fair and unfair don’t mean good and bad, they’re mostly about
the extent to which you’re trying to play interactive Magic.
To expand the example, consider Spirits. Devouring Greed and Thief of Hope are incredible when all of your creatures are Spirits–those are the “Affinity
for Spirits” cards, Moonlit Strider has the Spirit version of metalcraft–you want enough Spirits in your deck that you can expect to have one in your
graveyard in the midgame so that you can get value from the soulshift, and if you have that, it’s a great card. Moonlit Strider doesn’t care if you have
seven Spirits or thirteen Spirits, and as far as Moonlit Strider’s concerned, Indomitable Archangel is a strictly better card than Hikari, Twilight
Guardian (Indomitable Archangel is probably better no matter what, but making that pick will make your Waxmane Bakus worse). Essentially, most mechanics
have cards that pay off a low level of commitment and cards that pay off a high level of commitment–more and less parasitic cards, to incorporate another
term that’s often used here.
Going into a draft, I’m generally expecting to have an interactive deck that takes advantage of less parasitic synergies, but my goal is to stay flexible.
I think this is a drafting strategy that is relatively non-exploitable to use language more suited to Poker or Constructed Magic–I’m not as worried about
the strategy being actively exploited by my opponents (though more linear strategies do open themselves up to that, particularly in sideboarding or in
having bad matchups), but by the draft itself–a more flexible strategy is safer.
I imagine many people have had a draft where they feel like their deck isn’t going especially well, and it eventually becomes clear that they should have
been drafting something else, but they have no idea how they could have gotten there, or how to try to switch into it once they see it happening. In this
set, I think the trick is to watch for gateway cards.
Thief of Hope is a parasitic payoff card–if you have enough other Spirits, it’s awesome, but if I’m halfway through pack two and I have a Nameless
Inversion and no other Spirits, I can’t really take Thief of Hope and expect to play it. To get Thief of Hope into my deck, I need to get there by way of
another Spirit. Plagued Rusalka and Nameless Inversion are where it starts, because you can play them without any other Spirits, but they make your Spirits
a lot better because they turn on soulshift. Moonlit Strider and Kami of Ancient Law are the next step; you’ll play them if you have a small Spirit
package, and they’ll be pretty good without requiring your entire deck to be built around them. Once you have a few of these gateway Spirits, you can start
moving into harder Spirits like Waxmane Baku and Scuttling Death. By drafting cards in this order I give myself a path to find a dedicated Spirit deck if
no one else is fighting for it, or a small Spirit package in a deck that’s doing other things, and I don’t waste any picks on cards I can table if my tribe
Aethersnipe, Mulldrifter, and Spitebellows are general use Elementals that you’ll play in any deck–Elementals is an even less parasitic mechanic than
Spirits, so it’s easy to dabble in. Inner-Flame Igniter is a card I’ve generally been pretty impressed with, and I’m willing to put it in most decks too.
If I have a couple of these Elementals, all of which are good uses for extra mana, then I can take Smokebraider and this can lead me to Soulbright
Flamekin. Nothing about Elementals really cares if all of my creatures are Elementals. Sure, Incandescent Soulstoke is a better Lord and Smokebraider will
have more to do, but if I have around seven Elementals, I’ll probably get enough value from Smokebraider. Again, I can prioritize good spells and take
Elementals if they happen to be there late, but as long as I don’t start by forcing them, I’ll be happy with the evoke Elementals I took either way.
Basically, this set is full of great cards, but some of them are great because they have high upside if their synergies come together, and some are just
great on their own. You want to be in a position where you never have to take a card that has high upside over a card that has a high floor. Ideally, you
can find yourself in a position where even when you know a card will be at the top of its range, you don’t have to take it over an individually powerful
card because you’ll table the payoff card.
So my biggest lesson: Don’t draft with blinders on, and don’t try to push a theme so far you’re cutting your good interactive spells. Most people will be
counting on some synergies between their creatures to add power to their deck, and removal is great against that. Further in this direction, you’ll have
plenty of cards and you want good interaction; don’t just take cards for your sideboard when they happen to fall to you and there’s nothing for your
maindeck in the pack. Take a great sideboard card over a solid replacement-level card for your deck. Around pick three, if I see a Combust type card in the
pack, I’m pulling it forward as a card I’m very likely to pick.
The decks I least want to be are the aggro decks that are trying to function as unfair decks. R/W Double Strike, for example, I consider largely a trap,
however, I think it can be a good deck to fall into if you have a lot of good red and white removal–you want the deck to be able to play as an aggro deck
that deploys a hard-hitting threat and then kills the opponent’s blockers that might happen to have a combo finish-like feel.
Other key features about this format:
Hard removal is extremely hard to come by. Arrest and Narcolepsy don’t care about size, but they’re easily thwarted–there are a lot of ways to save a
creature from these after the fact, and they’re bad against creatures with graft. Bone Splinters is the only other common removal spell that doesn’t care
about size, which makes it pretty awesome if your deck can support it, but you don’t really want to plan on two for one-ing yourself. At uncommon there’s
Spread the Sickness and Wrecking Ball, but both of those are pretty expensive. The point is there’s not Go for the Throat, Ultimate Price, Terminate, Path
to Exile, or any of that kind of thing–this makes cards like Gorehorn Minotaurs, Rusted Relic, and Ulamog’s Crusher even better than they look on paper,
and it makes removal that can answer big creatures a high priority.
Card advantage is hard to come by. Sign in Blood is common, but Tezzeret’s Gambit and Mulldrifter are uncommon. Usually blue has a clunky common card draw
spell or two, but it just isn’t here in this set. This mean blue control decks are mostly leaning on uncommons, and this combined with the point above is
why I think U/B is the single worst archetype–yes, these cards exist in U/B, but at neither a good enough cost nor a good enough frequency.
Control decks are possible and good, but they generally want to be more than two colors; card advantage, bombs, and cheap removal are spread among the
colors, and there’s little enough in each color that you really need to be able to use whatever you see. Also, card advantage is rare enough that one of
the best ways to get it is to prioritize the uncommon lands and play a low land count, even minimizing spells that find lands to mitigate flooding and draw
more business spells over the course of a game.
Being a dedicated linear deck isn’t something you need to try to avoid, it’s just not something you want to force, and you want to make sure that you’re
not giving up premium removal to do it. Try to take generically good cards, but if other people are taking them highly and passing you cards in your theme,
it can be easy to overpower the less synergistic decks when everything comes together. You just need to be sure you’re never trying to do that when it
won’t come together.
“Midrange” is a good place to be in this format. Controlling decks don’t have the tools to play a pure control game and they need good finishers, and aggro
decks feel a little underpowered or exploitable.
I’m looking forward to Grand Prix Las Vegas. I hate Las Vegas as a city, and it’s going to be very hard to accomplish my goal of making top 8 there, but
I’ve had time to focus on preparing for this more than almost any other Grand Prix I’ve played, and I like this kind of format a lot. I feel confident in
what I’ve learned, and I’m looking forward to putting it into practice.