Drafting to Win, and Black/Red in Standard

Jeroen, the current Battle Royale champion, takes a break from ruling the budget MTGO metagame in order to answer some reader-posed questions on a number of formats. Champs is officially over, so the tide turns towards Time Spiral Limited. With a pre-Kobe record of 11-1 in Time Spiral draft, Jeroen shares his drafting strategies in perfect time for the online release. He also shares his views on color complaints post-Ravnica, and has a few things to say on Standard too…

Hey all! Welcome to this week’s edition of the by-now World Famous Column I Have Been Writing With You Cats For A While Now… not the catchiest title in the world, but so be it.

Champs is now behind us, which means that although Standard is still important for me – with Worlds coming up – you guys should be more interested in Limited questions. Today I will be focussing a bit more on the forty-card game, but of course I will still handle some of the Standard questions I receive.

Make sure to keep sending me those questions to [email protected], especially if you are more interested in seeing stuff on one format over another other. It’s the only way you can decide what this article series will be all about.

On that note, here we go again:

This week’s first question came to me by way of Benjamin Jones:

1.What do you think of the new fetch land Terramorphic Expanse? Is it an auto-include in mono or two-color decks, or is the “comes into play tapped” make it unviable?

2. I’m from the States, but I live in Spain now. Every time I have met a Dutch player randomly in Spain, I thought they were American from the natural way they spoke English. Are all the Dutch born masters of languages?

Hey Ben, thanks for writing.

Ah, the new fetchland. People were all over this card when it first got previewed, and it was assumed that this would be an auto-play in almost every deck at that time. Since then, opinions have cooled down a lot; now, most people tend to think it is unplayable. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.

The only real downside to playing this card is the fact that the land you fetch will come into play tapped. This means that the deck you are running cannot be one that minds having this happen a lot, and any format in which this card can be successful should not be lightning fast by definition. Right now, it seems like the format is plenty fast, and there are better options available that already come into play tapped most of the time (The Shock Duals).

The fact that there are so many good duals around also means that despite the fact that you can never have enough mana-smoothing, decks are not running enough basic lands to afford running the Expanse. It doesn’t have a home until after the rotation of the Shock Duals.

To answer your question: the card is not bad, but right now there are better alternatives. I would never run it in a mono-color deck, as the thinning is close to irrelevant (math will tell you it only helps you in one in I don’t know how many games). In two-color decks you have better options right now, but it could be okay in slower controllish decks. I am pretty sure that we haven’t seen the last of the Expanse, although right now is not the time for it. Expect Block Constructed to love this card, as it is really the only good color-fixing land.

Oh, and don’t forget, in a Standard deck built around Life from the Loam, this thing is almost an auto-include.

Now for the second question… I hear this a lot, as people tend to be very impressed with the English used by Dutch speakers. There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, we are a tiny country, which means that either we deal with outside countries or we are basically doomed. This means that we’d better be able to communicate with them. This leads to the fact that in High School, everyone is forced to learn at least a couple of years of English, French and German. Second of all, there’s TV. Roughly 50% of the shows on TV are American, and since we don’t dub our stuff – we subtitle it – this means that we hear English all the time.

Of course, we are also a bunch of wannabe Americans, so that doesn’t help. Hehe.

Next up, a question by Stefan Janiszewski:

After hearing that you 11-1’ed Time Spiral drafts, I really want to know what your strategy has been. I know you said you plan on writing about it, but I’m attending a PTQ this weekend, and I was wondering if you could give me some quick tips. Thank you!

My strategy in Time Spiral draft is pretty much as follows. I don’t like to draft Black, but other than that I have a couple of color-combinations in my head that I really like. R/G, U/W, W/R, U/R, and U/G. With this in mind, I tend to lean a couple of ways whenever I open a pack, and I will usually just pick up the most powerful card available without color preference.

In the next couple of packs I will usually do the same – not committing myself to a color, just picking the most powerful cards for the decks I am looking to draft eventually. Then, halfway through pack 1, I will try and see what has been coming and what colors should be open, and I then pick my second color based on that information. Note that this strategy will often leave you with a couple of “wasted” early picks, but since there are so few really unplayable cards, this will hardly ever matter in regards to getting enough playables.

Then I try to stick to my colors, and rely on the fact that my read in pack 1 was correct. This should mean that in pack 3 I will usually reap the rewards, as I know I am in a color not being heavily drafted to my left, and also have cut these colors during pack 2.

As for non-two-color decks, that leads me to the next question, by Roger Cole:

I recently played in a draft where I fell stuck into my Ravnica state of mind. The question is – can you make a stable three-color deck in Time Spiral draft? I got a lot of beef from “better” players who said it was the biggest mistake in the current Limited format. With Prismatic Lenses, Totems, Chromatic Stars, and Green being pretty solid for fetching land, not to mention Terramorphic expanse… is a three-color deck choice just hindering your mana curve?

The second question concerns Terramorphic Expanse. I rate this card very highly, and end up picking two on average in a given draft, usually around 6-8th picks. Again, players tell me that the land is exceedingly bad and you’ll always miss a land drop with it. Although I’ve never had bad experience waiting a turn to get the color I need, as well as removing another land from my deck.

Keep up the good work, and know we all appreciate the help and articles.

I feel like the only real way to draft a decent three-color deck is to draft Green. This is different to Ravnica Block; Terramorphic Expanse is not as good or flexible as the Karoos, and it is also four times as rare (approximately — remember, there are multiple Karoos per set). The same goes for Signets and the Lens, which means that for non-Green decks there just isn’t that much to go around.

What this means is that it is not a good idea to splash, as you will have to pick up the lands early, and you will have to do this with no idea if you will end up being able to pick up a splash-worthy card.

Of course, in Green, most of the top tier commons tend to be mana-fixers, which means it is very easy to splash. They also don’t bother your mana-curve at all; if anything, they tend to speed you up.

It comes down to this: how likely are you going to get your fixers, and how strong are the cards you want to splash? Sure, if you managed to pick up two early Expanses out of fairly empty packs, don’t look back and take that Lightning Axe if you have to. If you don’t have any fixers yet, I would really weigh it against my deck and strategy if I want to take that chance.

Some things to also take in mind: aggressive decks never want to splash. They want their mana to be perfect, and they don’t want to miss a beat early on. Control decks tend to mind less, as they are fine with missing an early color. Their cards are also good a turn or two later. Aggressive decks tend to be better in this format, which points us away from splashing. Also, pure three-color decks are just not worth it in this format, and are the sign of a draft gone wrong. There are not a lot of multicolored cards that usually force you that way, but it just means you didn’t focus enough on your colors during the draft. Avoid it.

Next up, Andrea Ferrazoli:

Hi Jamie

I’d be happy if you could spend some time talking about Zoo in a Time Spiral environment. I always enjoy brute force in Magic, but I feel Zoo could actually tend towards aggro-disruption. I’m testing with Ghost Quarter main and Cryoclasm in the sideboard, to become a pseudo-eight Stone Rain deck. That could buy me time in difficult matchup, as Cryoclasm is 3 to the dome and Quarter can be a colorless mana if unneeded. What do you think?

Jamie, huh?

I’m not sure where you got that from, but I’ll stick to my Jeroen thank you very much. I am pretty flattered, since Jamie Wakefield has been, and always will be, my favorite Magic writer around (more on this soon…).

One thing that jumped out immediately when I saw your email is that you seem to refer to Ghost Quarter as a card that gives you tempo… when in reality, it doesn’t. Even if you manage to nuke a Karoo with it, it will still be the same for you as your opponent – you both missed a land drop. This makes Ghost Quarter a very limited card, being used more for utility (Stopping the Urzatron or certain utility lands) then as actual mana denial, as it is not good at that in any way.

Zoo in general tends to have a shaky manabase at it is, and adding colorless lands shouldn’t help, since none of your cards really have colorless in their cost. I think you should be better off adding Stone Rains than Ghost Quarters to your sideboard, to be honest.

As for the question on whether it’s really worth boarding in landkill… I am not sure. The strength of Zoo has always been its makeup: it’s a lighting fast creature deck that crushes control by beating down with huge threats. The landkill doesn’t really help that cause, though it could be a potent way to stop combo (like Dragonstorm).

The real question you should be asking yourself is: do I want to slow myself down to commit board cards to this strategy? And why am I utilizing this strategy versus this deck? Against what decks do you want to board these cards, and why do you need them? You tell me that, and I’ll tell you if it’s a good idea.

Finally, Jarod White:

I was wondering what your opinion is of the viability of a B/R deck in the current Standard format. Personally, I don’t think B/R aggro is close to tier 1, but possibly an aggro-control or just plain control deck would be playable?

Also, could you give me your opinion of this B/R build I created:

4 Stronghold Overseer
4 Phyrexian Arena
3 Stupor
4 Rise / Fall
4 Void
3 Char
3 Sudden Death
4 Last Gasp
4 Cruel Edict
4 Sulfurous Blast
4 Blood Crypt
4 Sulfurous Springs
4 Watery Grave
4 Desert
1 Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace
4 Swamp
2 Mountain

We seem to disagree right off the bat. You don’t like B/R aggro at all, and I feel like Rakdos Aggro is actually one of the decks to beat in the current format. It is basically this format’s version of Sligh. If you plan to build a competitive deck, make sure it can beat Rakdos, and then go on to the rest.

As for your decklist, there are a couple of holes I see immediately.

You seem to be a control deck that takes a lot of damage, with no way to regain life. Char, Sulfurous Blast, and Phyrexian Arena all take huge chunks out of your life total, and are all used to stop creatures (generally). This means that against decks with burn, you will be struggling a lot.

Your Big Bad Dragon finisher cannot block. This means that against creature decks, you will have problems stabilizing with it. That, in combination with the lack of Wrath effects, means that your guy is just bad in fights the turn he comes out.

You have a lot of dead cards against control and combo decks. Just having seven discard effects will not make these matchups better.

Added to that pain, you have Watery Graves just for Fall, which is not even good in a deck that only runs four creatures, which you don’t plan on dying. It is too limited, and hurts too much.

To me, these holes combine to make a suboptimal deck, and a bad version of W/R/B Firemane Control, which plays many of the same cards with less of the vulnerabilities. Its removal can go to the head, its kill condition can block and come back, and it has the lifegain you need. Think about it. Here’s a list from the StarCityGames.com $1500 for reference:

I am not saying this list is better, or even that this is the deck you should be playing… just that it seems to do better at the things your deck is looking to accomplish.

That’s it for this week, folks! Keep the questions rolling.