Magic is an addictive game.
I thought I’d quit and entered the â€˜real world.’ I thought I’d left the Pro Tour, and certainly Magic Online, behind. Nope. Turns out that it’ll get you back in the end. Not even the world of adult entertainment (my new business venture) could keep me away. It started at Nationals, where I thought I’d put some effort in for a laugh, and it finished with having around fifty Shards packs on MTGO after drafting a little bit too much. Again.
Whereas it was fun figuring out how triple Shadowmoor and Shadowmoor / Eventide drafts worked, playing the matches was a bit tedious and definitely a reason that several of my friends stopped playing. Shards, however, is a whole different kettle of fish. It took me a few drafts at Grand Prix: Paris to get it figured out, but I have it sorted. It was in a team draft when I was bored of regular decks that I decided to push the boat out and force five-color control. I heeded rules regarding fixers similar to that of Ravnica Limited (the best ever, non-Rochester, single player format) and found myself 3-0 a couple of hours later. When I got home, I won seventeen of the next twenty four 8-4 drafts, and have been feeling pretty good about Magic ever since.
I want you to throw out how you’ve been drafting Shards up until now. I’ve not read what the current Limited minds have had to say, but I’m talking about forcing; or almost. When you sit down, you have to be prepared to be lots of colors from the word go. I’ve been five-color in about 90% of my drafts to date. Once you’re okay with this, then we can continue. Nick Eisel, I’m sure you’re fine with this idea…
Let me briefly sketch what your ideal deck will look like: It will have either seventeen land and two obelisks or eighteen and one. There will probably be four Panoramas and two tapped lands in that mix. You will likely be splashing one color quite heavily and another lightly. You will want to have around four Resounding spells and at least a couple pure card advantage spells like Kiss of the Amesha. You will have somewhere between nine and fifteen creatures, most of them fatties. And finally, you will have more removal spells and first pick cards than you know what to do with.
In order of importance: bombs, removal, first pick cards, fixer, card advantage, random dorks.
The most difficult thing to do when drafting five-color is how and when to evaluate fixers. By this I mean lands; Obelisks should be picked over anything mediocre, but know you will never play three; once you have one Obelisk, don’t pick others highly at all. For example, I tend to pick Panoramas over cards like Sanctum Gargoyle, Viscera Dragger, Soul’s Fire, Kathari Screecher, and Mosstodon; and tapped lands over cards like Woolly Thoctar and sometimes even Rhox War Monk. If you draft like this, it is unlikely that your mana will ever be poor. You will normally end up with an average manabase of 8/7/6/5/4. It tends not to matter which land you have, as they generally all work out, but if you do get presented with a choice, look to see how many of your splash colors you have available, and pick the lands that aid those if they need it.
As you draft, pay attention to which colors will become your main two. They will more often than not WU or UB, as this is where a lot of the basic removal and card advantage spells are. You will tend to also then double sub-splash either color on each side of this, which generally means your maindeck will be an Esper/Bant deck, but it often ends up being Esper/Grixis. You then splash the last color off one basic land and the Panoramas that fetch it.
You have to keep taking land highly until you have around four. In some drafts this will come very easily, and you can spend the end of the draft taking whatever you fancy. However, in most drafts you will go into the third booster knowing you will have to pick land over second-pick quality cards.
I’ve talked about what your average deck looks like because it is important to bear this in mind as you draft. Your deck will almost always be on defence and will tend to win on turn 12. You will also have your fair share of games fighting against color screw, although far less than you imagine, so it is important that you deck be drafted defensively with emphasis on staying alive and getting ahead in the late game.
It is important to note that these kind of decks need some way to win. It can be the myriad of bombs you hope to pick up; but it is more likely to be the two Cloudheath Drakes and two Yoked Plowbeats you scrounge late. It tends not to matter what, but fatties and large fliers tend to be the way to go. Much like lands, you will often be scrabbling for large men in the last pack. It doesn’t really matter what they are though, that’s the beauty of it – I’ve played more than my fair share of Dreg Reavers, as they have decent enough stats to do the job.
It would be wrong for me to write a Limited article and not talk about card advantage. Here, more than in any other deck, it is, as always, key. Kiss of the Amesha is a card I pick above land and classify in the high pick pool. Courier’s Capsules are slow and tend to require double Blue, but you will often find yourself playing them, they tend to get picked just below the lands. However, the deck’s main source of card advantage comes from the Resounding spells, in particular Resounding Silence. These decks always get to eight mana, and when you have multiple Resounding spells, you start to seal the game. I play as many Resounding Silences as I can get my hands on, and pick them higher then that critical land threshold (I just hope no one figures out Heezy’s Tortoise Formation sideboard tech).
It is seldom that you will not actually want to be all five colors. Sometimes you will be passed a particular Shard in such depth that there is no real reason to not be hardcore Jund or whatnot. Even here, thanks to your early picks of high quality cards and land, you will still be able to splash the crÃ¨me of the crop that gets passed your way.
Here’s the list of non-rare cards I pick above land:
Rhox War Monk
Kiss of the Amesha
That’s not the most prolific list in the world, is it? There are a few cards that I think are massively underrated or have particular relevance in this archetype that I want to focus on a bit more:
I see this card going very late. It shouldn’t – it’s a Looter, for Christ’s sake! In a format with less card advantage than normal, this will dig you to your answers and bombs. It also blocks all those pesky 1/1s that annoy this kind of deck.
I know I mentioned this card earlier, but it needs to be talked about more. I normally hate obvious combat tricks like this because they stand out like a sore thumb, but I love this card. This card is more often eight mana than it is four. When ripped off the top in the late game, you will almost always get a 3-for 1, and you’re more than happy cantrip killing a guy and not taking any damage for a turn. Not to mention that it gets rid of almost every problem creature around, maybe with the exception of Mycoloth.
Bull Cerodon, Tower Gargoyle, and Qasali Ambusher
I think that these are the best three uncommons in the set. It too me a while to truly appreciate the Ambusher, but as long as you can expect to have those land in play early, he is golden. He’s the ultimate guy on defence as he will almost always generate card advantage and costs nothing, allowing you to develop and protect your board position at the same time. As you’re seldom the aggressor, it is normally not worth making him to beat as you will get card advantage out of him at some point. The Cerodon is definitely the best uncommon, a haste Dragon on a stick, this card works on D as well. He is one of the only two uncommons I have considered taking over Oblivion Ring. The other is the Tower Gargoyle. Easy to cast in this archetype, he blocks, evades most of the removal (again the magic number of three), and puts your opponent on a fast clock.
Necrogenesis and Kiss of the Amesha
These are probably the fourth and fifth best uncommons in the set. The both generate something this archetype needs in spades — card advantage. It’s hard to evaluate how critical the Kiss’s life swing is until you see it completely turn around games. Necrogenesis is still probably the most underrated card in the set. It singlehandedly dominates both Unearth and Exalted strategies and generates card advantage, needed blockers, and essential late game power all at the same time. I usually have at least a couple of the seven cost cycling men in my deck to help fill the graveyard out a bit too.
This card, although perfect in nature for this archetype, is actually pretty hard to cast when you want it due to its double casting cost. If you are base Black then pick it very high as it performs an essential duty. However, similar to Jund Charm, it should be noted that almost all the guys it kills in this format really aren’t that great.
I thought this card was unplayable when I first saw it. Now I’m convinced that I would never leave it out of a sealed pool that could play it, and I’ve been seen playing one maindeck (and have often targeted it with a Naya Charm) in draft. I certainly pick as many as I can up late and board them all in against any control deck. When cycled during their upkeep, they are often 3-1 uncounterable card advantage, and games always go on long enough to take advantage of them.
This is one of the few two-drops that makes the deck (as I tend not to have green often enough on turn 2 for Cylian Elf). It kills several annoying creatures, chump blocks like a bad boy and helps fight against Bant’s Exalted creatures.
This is the best card advantage spell in the format and easy to cast. This is a slam.
Kederekt Leviathan and Knight-Captain of Eos
This card is a beating. It’s deceptive, but it provides you with a really solid body, turns the tempo around in your favour, will always provide the last five points of damage and has lots of neat tricks with Oblivion Rings and Knight-Captain of Eos. Speaking of which, he’s a neat staller, provides some card advantage and enough time to get there, as well as often meaning your end game is insane as you recycle him with Resounding Waves and the like.
This cards fits in right at home here, although it does tend to tilt the deck a little bit too much towards Esper, but that’s seldom a problem.
There’s really no limit to what these kind of decks can do. I first picked a Predator Dragon out of an empty first pack (I would now take Oblivion Ring over it, but only because I have a predisposition towards this kind of deck); a few picks later and it was obvious that I would be five-color, but I picked the correct land and creatures so that I had a Red base and cast my Dragon reliably every game I drew it. Some decks end up with the Sanctum Gargoyle/Capsule Esper engine, whilst others wind up with three or four Waveskimmer Aven and play more like a Bant deck, or you end up with two Corpse Connoisseurs and a spicy Unearth engine. The point of this article is that by picking land correctly, you give yourself the options to draft anything from pure craziness to a single Shard deck with a solid manabase.
Here are a couple of example decks I’ve had:
Covenant of Minds
Rhox War Monk
Kiss of the Amesha
Obelisk of Esper
2 Esper Panorama
Here’s the mana matrix for the deck:
White: Needed = 8, Sources = 7
Blue: Needed = 7, Sources = 6
Black: Needed = 9, Sources = 8
Red: Needed = 5, Sources = 5
Green: Needed = 4, Sources = 5
2 Resounding Silence
Gift of the Gargantuan
2 Rakeclaw Gargantuan
Rhox War Monk
Kiss of the Amesha
Obelisk of Esper
3 Bant Panorama
White: Needed = 9, Sources = 6
Blue: Needed = 3, Sources = 5
Black: Needed = 5, Sources = 5
Red: Needed = 7, Sources = 6
Green: Needed = 14, Sources = 8
Deck 1 is a great example of what decks in this archetype look like. Piled full of quality cards, removal and bombs. Its manabase is as solid as needs be, and even though it does have a couple of fillers, they do little to bring the deck down as they perform an essential role. Deck 2, on the other hand, I’ve chosen because it is one of the weaker decks I’ve drafted. There are no particularly amazing stand-out cards and still has several fillers; the manabase is also stretched rather thin as it would have liked an extra 1.5 sources of White. However, despite all of these shortcomings, it is still a powerful deck with enough removal, card advantage, fatties, and early defence to win still.
I hope I’ve managed to inspire a few of you to go out and try it. Remember, if you are in doubt, pick the land. This archetype is a lot of fun and is incredibly powerful once you’ve figured out how to draft it. I now have to return to my new job, selling romantic packages for couples on an adult website, but I go safe in the knowledge that you are now aware of a funky, diverse and thoroughly powerful draft archetype.
Until next time…