Prerelease Weekend has come and gone, and now that we’ve all had time to play with the cards in Throne of Eldraine, patterns are starting to emerge. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far:
1. The mana is bad! 9-8 manabases are the go-to for most Limited formats, and while that’s not perfect, it usually feels fine. Not in Throne of Eldraine. Every single deck I’ve drafted so far has had at least one color that ideally would have at least ten sources to function. I keep playing more lands than would be ideal in order to reliably cast my spells. So now I draft with this in mind. I prioritize leaning hard towards one color and don’t want overlapping double color requirements. This also means I believe that Reave Soul is the best black common over Bake into a Pie.
2. The fast decks are fast! I don’t think the format is necessarily that fast. I’ve seen very good versions of mono-blue and Dimir control. However, the speed of the fast decks, given the density of playable one-drops and push for monocolored decks, is faster than I expected. This is another reason why it’s so important to focus on a good manabase: you’ll get run over if you stumble.
3. There are a lot of two-card-combos and engines that help drive the non-aggressive decks. The Golgari Food archetype loves Witch’s Oven plus Cauldron Familiar. The Izzet draw-two archetype can win the game with just Improbable Alliance. And I’m sure there’s more to discover. However, I’ll note that if a deck isn’t aggressive and doesn’t have some engine, I’m unsure if it can keep up.
All of these have a large impact on how I draft. Let’s dive into some picks!
Pack 1, Pick 3
The Picks So Far:
This is a pretty great start to a draft. But this pack doesn’t really offer any great Izzet follow-ups. Or does it?
Mystic Sanctuary and So Tiny are the blue options to pair with Improbable Alliance.
So Tiny is a fine card, but I rarely find myself wanting more than one. The enchantment removal spells play an important role in the format thanks to marginal payoff cards like Shambling Suit and Moonlit Scavengers. Still, seven is a lot. It’s a good card, but not one I take early.
Mystic Sanctuary is a powerful land, but outside of mono-colored decks it’s really hard to turn on these lands. Since they count towards your mana of that color, the math is slightly different than for the adamant spells. And it seems enough different to make them worse than I thought at first glance. Still a good card, but not one I want to take early.
Shambling Suit is the only other card that pairs with both of the cards in my pool. While Shambling Suit is a good card, I think it looks deceptively better than it is. If you’re in a normal Limited deck that leans towards artifact and enchantment synergies, I doubt Shambling Suit gets much bigger than Nessian Courser, and so the payoff is a bit narrower than you would think. I’d rather snap this up when I’m already in a deck that can maximize it.
This leaves Outmuscle and Castle Ardenvale as the best cards left in the pack. Outmuscle is an awesome Hunt the Weak variant. It’s extremely powerful with adamant, and serviceable without. However, it just doesn’t compete with Castle Ardenvale. This Castle is capable of taking over a game all by itself, and I am surprised to see it here this late. I think this pick is the Castle by a fairly wide margin.
Pack 1, Pick 5
The Picks So Far:
I want to note that both Rosethorn Acolyte and Smitten Swordmaster are commons that have overperformed so far. But they’re enough behind the other options given my pool that they aren’t even close to considerations.
Savvy Hunter is almost certainly the best card in the pack, and I’m surprised to see it still in the pack. The question is if I’m willing to take a speculative pick here. After getting that Loch Dragon, I’m almost locked into Izzet. I’m still willing to deviate, but it’ll take something fantastic alongside strong signals to do so. And while Savvy Hunter is a great card that I see as a strong signal, I don’t think it’s enough to justify deviation. In many formats I highly value speculative picks through Pack 1 in order to find your lane. In Throne of Eldraine, I think drafting in that manner increases the probability of drafting a deck with bad mana. It’s still important to speculate, but I’m more wary about doing so based on my experience so far.
So this pick boils down to Tome Raider and Turn into a Pumpkin. I wouldn’t fault anyone for going either way. Turn into a Pumpkin is an awesome piece of interaction. An important note is that it can bounce your own enchantment removal. This means you can cast your So Tiny or Charmed Sleep early on to minimize the damage you take and reset it late-game on a more important target. It’s niche, but it just goes to show the flexibility of Turn into a Pumpkin. The Food token is also a nice upside, especially at instant speed. It can actually function like a combat trick alongside artifacts-matter cards like Shambling Suit. I think Turn into a Pumpkin is a better card than Tome Raider; however, I picked Tome Raider here.
There are a lot of one-toughness creatures in this format, and few ways to punish them. The majority of formats have cards that are hostile towards one-toughness creatures to the point where they become a liability. Think Cosmotronic Wave in Guilds of Ravnica and Heart-Piercer Bow in Core Set 2020. Throne of Eldraine doesn’t appear to have the same kind of blow-out cards like that. My deck is shaping up very nicely, and I want to make sure I have a good curve to stifle the aggressive decks.
Having a three-mana play with battlefield presence that can also trigger the draw-two engines like Improbable Alliance is important in order to not fall behind. I expect the Izzet decks to have all the tools against the more midrange and control decks, and so I think biasing a bit towards cheaper cards is a good idea. Lastly, a lot of the best cards in this set for Izzet are around four mana, and I already have two four-drops. Picking up another could create a clunky curve, and so I’d rather pick up Tome Raider. It’s possible I’m overthinking this to justify taking a worse card, but I don’t think the power-level delta between Tome Raider and Turn into a Pumpkin is huge.
Pack 2, Pick 2
The Picks So Far:
Take a minute to go over the pool so far. There are a lot of options in the following pack.
Between the two red cards, Scorching Dragonfire takes the cake by a reasonable margin. Skullknocker Ogre looks much better than it is. The first time I read the card, I focused on how enticing the “discard a card at random” part of the ability looked. Thinking about it further, I’m not sure that’s even a downside for the opponent. They get to choose whether or not they block. So if they have a hand full of lands, they can just take four. If they need to protect a bomb, they can prioritize killing or trading with the Ogre. The card needed a keyword ability like haste, trample, or menace to justify the 4/3 body with an ability that may be more of a downside than it looks. And Scorching Dragonfire is just one of the best commons.
Between the two blue cards, I’m not sure which is the correct pick. Syr Elenora, the Discerning is guaranteed card advantage on a body that can actually attack in some situations. Sage of the Falls is a more reliable blocker and helps the engine keep rolling for the draw-two synergy cards, but I’m not certain that the Izzet decks play many creatures. Overall, only time will tell which is better for the Izzet deck, but at this point I would settle on Syr Elenora because it’s guaranteed card advantage.
So this pick is between Syr Elenora and Scorching Dragonfire. At the time, I took Syr Elenora because it seems very powerful and less replaceable. However, after playing the games and further thinking, I believe Scorching Dragonfire was the correct pick. The Izzet deck doesn’t struggle to draw cards. And hence card advantage isn’t at the same premium it is for other archetypes. What’s most important is the ability to double-spell and interact. One of the best possible follow-ups to a Turn 2 Improbable Alliance is Scorching Dragonfire and Opt. Without cheap interaction, it is too easy to fall behind.
Below is the final deck, and you can view the full draft log here! As you can see, it’s a 9-8 manabase, which I wasn’t happy with, and it was clunky in the games. I felt like I needed more red sources in order to support Opportunistic Dragon and always be able to cast Improbable Alliance early. However, with the amount of cheap blue cards and situations in which I would need double blue, I couldn’t justify more red sources. Golden Egg is actually important for that without being off-plan, since it helps trigger my engine cards.
The deck went 3-0 pretty easily thanks to how linear the plan was. Yes, there were mana problems, but not enough to stop the trophy!