Limited Lessons — Drafting With Masters Edition

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Masters Edition has been released, and MTGO folk everywhere are waiting for the lag to end in order to get their old-fashioned fix. MXX drafts MMM drafts, everyone praying they’ll open a foil Force of Will… it’s a retro maelstrom! Today’s Limited Lessons sees Nick walk us through some of the finer points of MMX draft, bringing us the lowdown on the format and the skills required to max out our Masters profits.

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My initial plan for this week was to do a draft walkthrough on the new Masters/Tenth/Tenth format on Magic Online. So far I’ve done three of these drafts, recorded all three, and guess what? The format is extremely straightforward in terms of draft picks. Both sets involved in the draft usually have one card that is much stronger than the rest in most packs.

So I was faced with a dilemma. I could still just do the walkthrough even though I personally believe the picks are easy and not much could be changed, or I could do a different type of article about the new format. I chose the latter, and today I’ll instead be covering basic strategy for MXX draft. I think you’ll find as I did that it requires a different type of mindset than most normal formats.

Masters Edition
Since Tenth has already been discussed quite a bit, I want to take a look at the “new set” before diving into actual strategy.

One of the first things I noticed about this set is the abundance of X/1s present. If you haven’t played the format yet, just open up Magic Online and take a look and you should be able to see this too. This is an important thing to recognize up front because it makes cards like Cuombajj Witches, Brothers of Fire, and Thorn Thallid that much better. These are all good cards on their own and I’d go as far as to say Brothers of Fire is a bomb, but they all get a boost in value when there are tons of targets available.

The second and probably more important thing I noticed is that this set, just like Tenth Edition, is filled with bomb rares. More on this later.

Since the Masters pack comes first in this draft format I believe it’s important to understand what it has to offer so that you can start your draft on the right foot instead of trying to make up for lost picks when Tenth rolls around.

Just speaking in terms of commons, Black is far and away the best color in the set.

Yeah, it has far too many words on it.

The effect more than makes up for the time you had to waste reading all of the excess wording about counters and whatnot. Killing any guy for three mana is quite attractive, and obviously makes this a very high pick. In triple Masters booster draft this card is unbelievable, but it loses some value in MXX due to the large amount of enchantment kill available in Tenth Edition.

Cuombajj Witches
When I talked to a friend of mine about the beta server for Masters, all he said was that triple Masters draft was terrible because the Witches were basically unbeatable. As it turns out, pinging effects are also strong in Tenth and that makes this card even better.

Feast or Famine
I’d guess this is probably the best Black common in Masters. It’s good at what it does and also can just make a guy if it ends up being a dead card. What more can you ask for?

Hyalopterous Lemure
This guy is quite the strong attacker and it’s unusual for Black to get a 3/3 flier in the common slot. This one is also splashable and with all of the mana fixing in Tenth it’s very realistic to splash one of these, and maybe a Feast or Famine or other strong removal spell.

The rest of the Black commons are pretty strong as well, with the exception of Basal Thrull and Thrull Retainer, and neither of those are terrible. The problem with Thrull Retainer is that there is plenty of bounce in Tenth to negate any effectiveness it might have. Phyrexian Boon and Order of the Ebon Hand weren’t given their own sections due to space constraints, and they are both excellent. I’d suggest mainly using the Boon as removal though, as the Unholy Strength side will usually just be asking to get two-for-one’d unless the situation is absolutely right.

Red is likely the second best color in the set, with Lightning Bolt, Fissure, Brothers of Fire, and Mountain Yeti all as top commons. One thing you need to keep in mind is that Red is on the weaker side in Tenth, and you don’t want to get too heavily involved in it only to be let down in the later packs. This is a quirky draft format, and just because you’re getting Red in pack 1 doesn’t mean you’ll get huge benefits in pack 3 because they just might not be there due to Red being shallow in Tenth.

Blue’s commons are very weak in this set, with Phantom Monster being the only remotely exciting card. Giant Tortoise is fine, and Arcane Denial deserves special mention later in the article. Word of Undoing is yet another reason to avoid creature-enhancing Auras in this environment, or can serve to reset your Pacifism in dire circumstances.

Green is relatively solid with Shambling Strider, Thorn Thallid, Fyndhorn Elves, Wyluli Wolf, and Roots leading the way.

White is very unimpressive with Exile, Order of Leitbur, and Knights of Thorn being the only cards I’m really excited about. One thing I want to mention though is that most people are totally unaware of how Banding works, and you can pick up some card value just by having some banders and getting your opponent to make a mistake. The funny thing about Banding is that it’s a confusing mechanic to begin with. You would think that this would lead to players asking questions and making sure they understand the ability before they go into combat against it. I guess due to the egotistical nature of Magic, most people just assume they know how it works and are too stubborn to inquire further about it. It usually ends up costing them a game or a match before they ask someone how it really works. While I’m not going to type out exactly how it works here, don’t be this stubborn yourself. If you don’t get it, ask an Adept or someone who does understand it!

I didn’t bother to cover uncommons and rares because each color has some very strong ones, and in general the picks have been easy in my experience. The one thing you really want to be aware of during the Masters pack is what type of archetype you’re headed for, and what Tenth has to offer for that archetype. Mana fixing is very available, especially in Green, so you can be a bit liberal when taking that Feast or Famine or Lightning Bolt with the intention of splashing.

The strategy I’ve used twice to good results so far is to attempt to force very heavy Black and then splash for a few very good cards in another color. Here’s an example of this strategy.

I liked this strategy in XXX draft because of Looming Shade, Consume Spirit, and all of the other Black cards with heavy requirements. Masters adds to this with The Fallen, Order of the Ebon Hand, Cuombajj Witches and more. Most people will find themselves in two solid colors after the Masters pack and if you can be patient about it you will usually get late pick Consumes.

This should serve as a good overview to the Masters pack. Your thinking during this booster should be to take as much removal as possible, and also pick up whatever bombs you have a chance at. Everything will come together once you get to Tenth as long as you have some sort of plan.

An Explosive Format
In fact, this format is anything but explosive if we’re talking about the speed of the average deck. I’d say the average deck operates at about the speed of molasses coming out of a jar, and the reason is because all of the quick guys are crappy. You can go ahead and overload your deck with 2/1s for two mana and then just get destroyed by the guy who has a couple of pingers or an Orcish Catapult.

When I say this format is explosive, I mean it is completely and utterly dominated by bombs. We all know by now that Tenth draft is more about dropping a bigger bomb than the other guy than anything else. Screw tempo for the most part, size is what matters.

Now along comes Masters Edition into the format, and unsurprisingly it operates under the exact same principle. This is the basic rule of the format, and knowing it can give you a huge edge over everyone else if you are aware of how to exploit it. Luckily for you, I’m going to show you a few of the best ways to take advantage of this knowledge today.

The first way to exploit the rule of the format is to make every effort to play every bomb you can. This includes taking bombs that may seem unreasonable to splash at the time or may screw up your mana. Most games last a long time and you’ll have time to cobble together your mana for that Shivan Dragon or Mahamoti Djinn. Now, if your deck is solid and it’s pack three and you open up Persuasion, I might not go out of my way to try to play it if I already think I’m in good shape to win the draft. In most cases though, your thinking should be very bomb-oriented and you should try to squeeze every possible ounce of power into your draft decks. This means splashing, switching colors for a bomb, whatever it takes.

The second way is to be prepared for the other guy’s heavy hitters and handle them in advance. Obviously, removal spells that can kill anything like Fissure, Oubliette, and Pacifism are great here, since most bombs are creatures, but you can take it a whole step further.

Selective discard and counterspells are a great way to stop anything bad from happening before it even starts. I’ve always been a huge advocate of Distress, but I think it gets even better with the addition of Masters and is yet another reason to advocate a heavy Black strategy. Thrull Surgeon is excellent as well. As far as counterspells go, it doesn’t get much better than Cancel, and I think it is a much higher pick than people are giving it credit for. If you’re able to drop a couple of early fliers on the table and then sit behind a deck with multiple Cancels, you should be in good shape to deal with whatever your opponent throws at you. As I was saying earlier, Arcane Denial is pretty bad on its own, but when you’re faced with a bunch of ridiculous cards that demand answers, it starts to sound pretty good. Remove Soul as always is at a premium.

Hopefully you get the idea here without me going through every possible answer available. One other that I do want to mention is Persuasion, as it’s not only a bomb in its own right, but it takes your opponents bomb and uses it against him.

Utility and Enchantments
As important as bombs are in this format, Utility is almost equally valuable. In the draft deck I listed above I had Heavy Ballista, and every time it survived it was nearly impossible to lose. There are plenty of other examples of this like Brothers of Fire, Merfolk Looter, Puppeteer, Prodigal Pyromancer… the list just goes on and on. These guys are extremely valuable because they overpower most of the regular creatures available, and in most cases need to be killed instantly if you want to have a chance to win. I only mention them to again reiterate that a standard beatdown approach is not going to be viable in most circumstances in this format, and you need to be looking towards the long game and generating any amount of card advantage or positional advantage that you can.

Enchantments are also at a premium in this format, and there are plenty of playable artifacts. Not only do I think Naturalize and Viridian Shaman are maindeck viable, but I think they are both relatively high picks as there are a lot of ridiculous Enchantments and Artifacts. You best have an answer to Moat or Loxodon Warhammer if you encounter them or you have absolutely no chance of winning.

I was toying with the idea of maindecking Demystify the other day and I think it might be a reasonable option if you don’t have a Cloudchaser or any other means of answer. I suppose boarding it in is still probably the best option simply because you really don’t want to get manaflooded, and if you have it stuck in your hand as a dead card that’s not a good start to overpowering the other guy.

Overall, this format is not very difficult to figure out.

Draft the bombs yourself, be aware of what is available in Tenth in conjunction with what you’re drafting in Masters, and have a solid defense strategy for the other guy’s stronger cards. While I prefer a heavy Black strategy, there are plenty of viable combinations and it’s just a matter of squeezing every ounce out of every card if you want to be successful in this type of environment.

I’ll be toying with this format until Lorwyn is released, so feel free to pose questions in the forums or email. See you next week.

Nick Eisel
Soooooo on MTGO
[email protected]

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