Limited Lessons – Drafting Fertile Ground

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In a change from the advertized tribal drafting program, Nick branches out this week into a more experimental and irreverent archetype. Instead of basing your picks on tribal lines, grab the bustiest and best piece of cardboard and hang the consequences! Of course, there’s much more to it than that… let Nick show you how it’s done!

It’s relatively humorous that I’m actually writing this article. You see, a few weeks back I decided that I’d drafted enough times to have a solid grasp on the standard tribal strategies in LLL, and I was going to start experimenting. The focus of my experimentation was Smokebraider, since it is the most explosive common in the set and also the one with the most potential for sick openings. Everything was fine at first, as I was drafting BRu Elementals, or occasionally near mono-Red and taking advantage of all of the good aggressive Elemental synergies like Inner-Flame Acolyte, Inner-Flame Igniter, and Glarewielder. Eventually I started to branch out.

“Hey dude, I’m gonna draft if you wanna come shotgun it.”

I started saying this at least once a day to my roommate, who is also a solid Magic player.

His response?

“Are you going to draft normally or start doing stupid things again?”

Being ever so crafty, I assured him that I was going to draft normally. He’d always agree to watch and offer opinions, but things never quite worked out that way. You see, I just couldn’t help myself and would start making bizarre picks and draft a five color pile instead of a well-oiled tribal machine. The funniest thing about all of this is that my roommate would always laugh and tell me how badly I screwed up the draft, how I should’ve taken this, etc etc etc. But then I started making it to the finals of 8-4s on a regular basis, and beating people with ridiculous openings. At first I just thought I was running good or getting lucky, but I’ve put in enough good results now that I can say that the strategy is actually viable (and extremely enjoyable when it comes together) if you know how to draft it correctly. I suppose that last statement is a silly thing to say, since drafting a deck like this is actually going against the grain of all the strategy advice I’ve given in previous Lorwyn articles.

Hopefully I’ve piqued your interest enough now, so I’ll get into exactly what I’m talking about.

When I wrote my Elemental strategy guide a month or so ago, I mentioned a G/R version of Elementals that made good use of Fertile Ground. That deck was essentially the first draft of what I’m now calling the Fertile Ground archetype.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, the basic idea behind this deck is to take every good card you see (within reason) and support it with a base of good mana fixing and acceleration. This usually results in at least a four-color, deck but also means that your spells will be better and you’ll have a very good chance of winning if the game goes long. Most of the good Elementals are splashable and have comes into play abilities which this deck is good at abusing.

The deck can take on many forms and doesn’t really have a core set of colors. I guess the best advice I can give is to have a base in Green and Red, and sometimes you’ll have more Black, sometimes you’ll have more Blue. Just take each draft as it goes and always be looking to take the best card if your mana can possibly support it.

Fertile Ground and Smokebraider
Initially I preferred Smokebraider in a deck like this, for obvious reasons. The more I’ve drafted it, the more I can’t stress enough that Fertile Ground is actually the better of the two in this archetype. The reason for this is that you usually don’t end up solidly in Elementals. You still want to be able to accelerate into big guys that aren’t Elementals that nobody else is picking, like Arbiter of Knollridge. A second reason is that there isn’t any land destruction (besides Faultgrinder, which will probably be in your deck and not your opponent’s anyway) and it’s very easy to kill a 1/1. I’ve played plenty of games where if my Smokebraider was an enchant land instead I would’ve easily won. Either the Braider got killed or I had to mulligan because it couldn’t help me cast any of my spells.

Both cards are certainly excellent in this strategy, and there are times when you’ll take Braider over the Ground if you have and Incarnation like Dread or Guile on the splash and want better access to it, or if you just have a bigger base of Elementals than usual. The more you draft the deck, the more you’ll get a feel for which card is better if you have to make a choice between them. Whatever the case, these are the cornerstones of the archetype as they provide both fixing and acceleration at the same time, which is a huge deal.

Vivid Lands
I know these aren’t common, but I’m including them here anyway because they’re important and I’m talking about manafixers.

“I think I’m going to go do something productive, because you are retarded.”
My Roommate

He usually says this after I take a Vivid Land out of pack with potential playables for my deck. I’ve tried to explain it to him many times, and he seems to be coming around a bit since I’ve been doing well forcing this deck lately. The idea is that you will always have enough playables in this archetype, since you can technically play anything you draft. Vivid Lands are free fixing that make your manabase so strong. The best part is that they don’t even cost you a slot in your deck, and most people think they are junk. You’re rarely doing anything in the first few turns of the game, so having multiples of these can only add consistency to your draws.

The most of these I’ve ever had in one deck was five, and I was never colorscrewed once in that draft, so I definitely advocate multiples. I suppose the tricky part is knowing exactly when to draft one of these, and if there seems to be a good enough response to this article I may post a walkthrough for next week where I force the archetype and try to give an idea of where to be picking these.

Other Fixers/Accelerants
There are plenty of other options if you don’t get multiple Grounds/Braiders.

The first that comes to mind is Springleaf Drum, which is often passed over, and I’ll admit that I underrated it in the early drafts as well. Again this is fixing and acceleration in one but it’s not nearly as reliable as the core options. I’ll still play one of these on occasion.

Leaf Gilder can provide acceleration and I will usually play at least one to help power out my clunky Mournwhelks and Aethersnipes. Tideshaper Mystic has been going around late in the past couple weeks, so I’ll usually pick up and play one or two of those if my other fixers aren’t as strong. Wanderer’s Twig can sometimes make the cut but I’ve been less impressed with it than I thought I’d be. I’d almost never run multiples of it because it’s kind of awkward, and a terrible draw in the mid-game.

As I said in my Elemental article, this guy is an absolute house. With all of the acceleration you should be drafting, this guy will come down early and hit hard. Multiples are very welcome

This is one of the best reasons to draft the archetype, because nobody else is picking these and you can do some sick things with Makeshift Mannequin in your opponent’s draw step. I’ll usually play one or two of these, but I’ve played as many as four in a deck with two Mannequins. Once your opponent’s hand is cleared out you shouldn’t have trouble overpowering him with better spells.

The nuts, obviously. I usually take this over any common when I’m in this archetype,
though I suppose you could make a case for Nameless Inversion too because it’s so good. Mulldrifter offers the power that this deck really wants to push it over the edge.

Warren Pilferers & Footbottom Feast
Pilferers is obviously the better of the two here, but I like having at least one of each if possible. Since you have all of these clunkers with Evoke, you can recur them that way or you can just ensure inevitability by trading your smaller guys and then getting them all back later.

For some reason Pilferers has been undervalued on Magic Online, and I happily scoop them up when in this archetype.

Cloudcrown Oak
So yeah, you kinda need a way to deal with fliers. If you haven’t drafted enough splashable fliers of your own, having one of these guys should go a long way to holding the fort. Another way of dealing with the problem is of course to just kill every flier they play, which I’ve been known to do.

Dreamspoiler Witches
You’ll often end up with a bunch of Instant speed removal in this deck, since you can splash anything. This makes the Witches very valuable and they’re also easy to cast. Not a necessity by any means but you can certainly take and play them if that’s the direction the draft goes in.

One of the perks of drafting a deck like this is that you can take any and all removal. I usually stay away from Weed Strangle but you can basically take anything else and just throw it in. Oblivion Ring? Tarfire? Lash Out? Nameless Inversion? Eyeblight’s Ending? Consuming Bonfire? Neck Snap? They’re all here so you should never have an excuse for not getting enough removal.

In order to buy time to set up your bigger spells you’ll want to be picking some defensive options earlier than normal. Gilt-Leaf Ambush is a favorite of mine and not only helps to buy you some time but also has clash. Mudbutton Torchrunner is also good at this task for obvious reasons. Depending on what base colors you are, there are lots of other defense options ranging from Streambed Aquitects to Cloudcrown Oak or other Treefolk.

Uncommons and Rares
This section is tricky to write since you can take any good uncommons and rares and throw them right in the deck. With that being the case I’m only going to write about the unusual all-stars and cards that especially stand-out in this deck.

Makeshift Mannequin
The Elbow Drop.

Combine this with Shriekmaw, Mulldrifter, or Mournwhelk, and your opponent should be very, very far behind. It’s nice that most decks don’t want it, and it’s also an Instant to allow for an ambush.

Elemental Harbinger
Obviously searches up the turn 2 Smokebraider, as well as any number of the bombs you’ve drafted.

Horde of Notions
Oh yes. Not only is this playable, but it’s actually near a windmill slam in this archetype. I’ve played it a number of times and the opponent is never suspecting it, and almost always dead to it. The return ability is also sick with evoke. Sadly I’ve first picked this in pack 2 or 3 of a draft on more than one occasion because I was scared someone would rare-draft it off me.

Heat Shimmer
Great with Mulldrifter or Aethersnipe, I’ve talked about abusing this card in previous articles. It’s nice that you can copy your opponent’s guys as well for some crazy board situations.

Strengths & Weaknesses of the Archetype
Since I’m not covering as many individual cards as I usually do in these strategy guides, I wanted to talk a bit more about the archetype in general. The first question I can see coming to mind is why someone would want to draft a crazy mess like this deck when they can instead focus on drafting tribally and get all of the synergy that comes with it. There are a number of reasons that I actually prefer this archetype to a normal deck. The first reason is that it is very explosive and can do some sick things with cards that nobody else is picking, like Mournwhelk. The acceleration/fixing is underrated as well, which allows you to pick it up late, as few people are taking Fertile Ground or Vivid Lands with any of their early picks. Sure, Smokebraider is drafted pretty heavily, but you can get by just fine without him. The main strengths are that the deck can have some truly busty starts, a lot of the cards aren’t very good in typical archetypes and so you’ll get them late, and people will have no idea what you’re doing in most cases and will have trouble figuring out a good strategy against you.

The weaknesses are obviously that the mana can be rough at times, even though there are a lot of good fixers. The deck can be very volatile since you’re so many colors, and sometimes the right cards just don’t come and the deck doesn’t come together well. Overall, I think if you are able to evaluate which cards are better in which situations based on what you’ve already drafted, you can have a lot of success with this archetype.

2 Fertile Ground
2 Mournwhelk
Nameless Inversion
Lash Out
Oblivion Ring
Horde of Notions
Arbiter of Knollridge
Cloudcrown Oak
Leaf Gilder
Makeshift Mannequin
Warren Pilferers
2 Gilt-Leaf Ambush
Turtleshell Changeling
Doran, the Siege Tower
Elvish Harbinger
Vivid Marsh
Vivid Crag
Vivid Meadow
3 Swamp
2 Plains
7 Forest

This deck was pretty strong, and I even got Doran very late in pack 2. Hopefully you enjoyed this strategy guide, and will give this archetype a try as it is a nice change of pace from just forcing a tribe. See you next week.

Nick Eisel
[email protected]