Limited Lessons — X Marks The Draft

Read Nick Eisel... at StarCityGames.com!
Today marks the opening of the Tenth Edition Draft queues on Magic Online… and Nick Eisel is here to help. In this illuminating article, Nick breaks down the top commons in each of the colors, and looks at some of the stronger draft archetypes. Is U/W the way to go with White? Is Four-Color Green, or even Five-Color Green, viable in a format bursting with mana fixing? Nick reveals all…

This week I want to go back to basics and talk about Tenth Edition. The set will be available for draft soon on Magic Online, and I also know that a lot of places are using the format for Friday Night Magic. I’ve only done a few drafts as of this writing, but I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what is going on, and so I wanted to do an overview article.

If enough people are interested, I am also willing to do a draft walkthrough on Tenth for next week, but you’ll have to raise your hands in the forums if you’d like to see that or I’ll probably return to TPF.

White seems pretty mediocre overall. We lost Master Decoy in favor of a larger and slower version in Loxodon Mystic. There are a lot of junk commons in the color, but I guess that is to be expected due to the nature of core sets. I love Aven Cloudchaser in the abstract, but really don’t like it much in Tenth. If you’re White, I surely hope you have some Pacifisms. There are some good targets for Heart of Light in the set, such as Blockrock Cyclops or Spineless Thug, so you can plan to sideboard it in against aggro or big Green men. The best new additions are Skyhunter Patrol and Wild Griffin, as both are excellent fliers. Patrol was pretty hard to beat before, and is even harder to get past in Tenth since the card pool is at a lower power level.

I haven’t drafted with White yet, and I believe the reason for is largely because the commons are underpowered. If I take a Pacifism early I usually just end up splashing for it and moving out of White, and I haven’t opened anything like Wrath or Serra Angel that would make me really want to commit. In past base set formats, U/W was always a strong combination, so I don’t doubt that is true here.

I’m not quite sure why Wizards is trying to push the Rebel theme so hard, as I think doing so has only two possible outcomes. First, they could make Rebels as strong as they were before, when they dominated Constructed for a while. Second, they can attempt to make them fair but playable, and end up failing… since making them fair means they likely aren’t good enough for Constructed. I know Bound in Silence makes things possible, and you could run a smaller Rebel chain with bullets like Cho-Manno, Revolutionary and Defiant Vanguard, but I don’t see an all-Rebel strategy dominating again.

I’m rambling, and I’m going to stop. Here are my picks for the top White commons.

Loxodon Mystic
Skyhunter Patrol
Wild Griffin
Ghost Warden
Benalish Knight
Angelic Wall

It’s possible that Ghost Warden shouldn’t be this high on the list, but it seems like such an effect would be better in a simpler environment like Tenth. My gut instinct is that it really depends what archetype you’re in, as Ghost Warden is awesome in G/W, and Angelic Wall sucks, whereas the opposite is probably true of a more controlling build (or something like W/R, that needs the Wall to hold down the air).

While I’m not planning on focusing much energy on Uncommons and Rares in this article, I have to say that I’m not really excited by White in that department. Sure, Condemn is fine and Windborn Muse is awesome, but they’re no Blaze, Persuasion, or Shivan Dragon. White does have Wrath though, so I guess you can’t be too down.

For some unknown reason, Horseshoe Crab is back… and this time it gets to go nuts with Arcane Teachings. The crab is pretty marginal on his own, but I’d pick it up late in case you are lucky enough to get a Teachings later. At least he’s better than Lumengrid Warden.

Blue has tons of fliers in this set, and I’m not sure exactly how to rank them. My take is that Cloud Sprite is the obviously the worst of the bunch, due to Afflict being reprinted, as well as Prodigal Pyromancer.

My list of top commons for the color is not entirely hammered out. I’m almost certain Merfolk Looter is the best common and dominates games by himself in formats where the overall card quality is lower. A lot of games in core set formats come down to who gets the most value out of their cards and who gets the least flooded, and I can’t think of a better solution to this problem than the Looter. After that, the list gets shaky. Aven Windreader is awesome, but so is Snapping Drake. The question is whether the fact that the Drake dies to Shock or smaller fliers makes it worse than Windreader. I’m going to say the Windreader is better for now, because of Shock and Skyhunter Patrol.

As far as where Sift and Unsummon fit into this list, I think it is largely deck dependent. If you already have the evasion, then go for the tempo provided by Unsummon. Need to gas up? Sift is exactly what you’re looking for. I don’t know how to clarify it more than this, and I’m sure there will be tough picks that come up when you have to choose between Sift and Windreader and don’t have any clear direction that would shift the pick either way. My best guess is that you can’t go wrong taking Windreader, as big fliers are always strong in base set draft. As far as my top commons list goes, I’d be happy to hear feedback from anyone who’s played a lot of the format.

Merfolk Looter
Aven Windreader
Snapping Drake
Aven Fisher
Cloud Elemental

Again, Unsummon and Sift can really move around on the list depending on what your deck already looks like.

As a side note: why the hell is Persuasion an uncommon now? The card really ruins games, and the only solace is that there is a lot of enchantment destruction available to offer some defense. I realize that Confiscate was uncommon, but I think that was a mistake too, and both should be rare in any set they’re present in. There are plenty of other goodies in the Uncommon and Rare slots, and I’ve been having fun abusing Vedalken Mastermind with Gravedigger and Highway Robber.

Initial reports suggest that a lot of players don’t like Black in this format. Whether or not this remains true will be a big factor in terms of how good Black actually is. What I mean by this is that if Black is underdrafted then Severed Legion, Terror, Looming Shade, and Consume Spirit all shoot up in value. If you’re able to get near mono-Black with multiple Consumes, I’m willing to bet you’d be tough to beat. If Black is drafted a regular amount, then I think it goes down a lot in value, since Terror won’t kill anything and Legion won’t be able to swing past bigger guys. Another problem I’ve already seen is that there are a lot of playable Artifacts available, and especially Artifact creatures. Terror doesn’t kill those.

Personally, I think Black is strong, even if it may suffer from the fact that other colors are going to take Essence Drain and Terror with the intention of splashing. The creatures are lacking, but you have Mass of Ghouls to make up for that somewhat, and there’s also the nice synergy between Gravedigger, Highway Robber, and Recover.

Afflict is a card that deserves special attention, because it was amazing back in Odyssey… but I’m not sure it will be amazing in Tenth. The first draft I did I had three copies, and I only played two due to the lack of X/1s available. The one thing Afflict does help with is the situation where your opponent thinks he is getting an even trade, and you simply kill his guy without even losing a card. It’s nice to be able to off a Merfolk Looter or Pyromancer as well, so don’t underestimate this little instant, even if it doesn’t measure up to its historic strength.

Essence Drain
Phyrexian Rager
Severed Legion
Dusk Imp

This list is pretty sound, though Dusk Imp and Legion could easily switch depending on mana issues or metagame issues. I realize I didn’t talk about all of the commons, even though I really like Distress and Mind Rot. They just aren’t at the top of the list for me.

I think mono-Black is a very viable archetype, and something I plan to try out once the set is available for draft online.

Red is also lacking in creatures, as you’ll be able to see if you scroll down and realize that Hill Giant somehow made the top commons list. Plenty of solid Black creatures like Mass of Ghouls, Ravenous Rats, and Highway Robber were all outclassed by better cards. There are some strong cards in Red in this set but the color as a whole is not very deep, and what you’re really hoping for is a bomb uncommon like Blaze or Arcane Teachings.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about Red in Tenth except that there are a few good burn spells and a bunch of crappy guys like Bogardan Firefiend and Bloodrock Cyclops. The Cyclops is fine I guess, though it’s awful against Green and not very good as the game goes longer, as it will just attack into its own demise.

Spitting Earth
Prodigal Pyromancer
Lava Axe
Hill Giant

Spitting Earth and Pyromancer can shift around if you have fewer Mountains. I may also just be wrong, and Pyromancer may be the better overall card. Lava Axe can move around a lot, depending on how much other burn you have and what colors you’re in.

Red is supposed to be about all-out aggression in this set, and I think it may take the concept too far and make it less effective than a consistent mid-range strategy with burn for additional reach. I wouldn’t recommend trying a heavy burn strategy unless you get multiple Lava Axes, as Bogardan Firefiend is pretty terrible on its own.

Finally we come to what is probably my favorite color in Tenth, and that is largely due to the inclusion of Civic Wayfinder. With the help of Rampant Growth and Terramorphic Expanse, I believe it is very easy to draft four color Green and just splash for bombs and removal. Green is otherwise the same as it usually is in core set, and mainly comprised of large men.

Giant Spider
Civic Wayfinder
Spined Wurm
Rampant Growth
Giant Growth
Kavu Climber
Canopy Spider

I believe Naturalize is a fine maindeck option in this format, and should probably even be higher on the list than it is. There are tons of strong artifacts available, as well as some bomb enchantments like Persuasion and Arcane Teachings. Here’s a sample look at what four-color Green can look like in Tenth draft.

3 Civic Wayfinder
Spined Wurm
Sengir Vampire
2 Afflict
Essence Drain
Canopy Spider
Hunted Wumpus
Rampant Growth
Angel of Mercy
Craw Wurm
Troll Ascetic
Bog Wraith
Chromatic Star
7 Forest
7 Swamp
Terramorphic Expanse

Here I drafted a G/B base, and then splashed for a bomb in Scalpelexis and some strong White cards. I had other Green and Black cards that I could’ve played in my board, but splashing was essentially free with this much mana fixing.

I want to try out G/R more once the set is draftable online/ as aggressive men and Lava Axe is always a good combination. My thinking with Green in Tenth is that you can base your creatures in it and then just get removal elsewhere, and there are plenty of splash options available and easy ways to support them. Think open minded when you’re drafting Green.

I realize this was a brief overview focusing mainly on the commons. There are, however, a lot of important commons in Tenth Edition, and since I’m talking about draft it only makes sense to focus here. I didn’t cover Artifacts, since most are pretty easy to evaluate, and I also skipped over the Landwalk guys since each color has one. This doesn’t mean that these aspects of the set are unimportant, and I wanted to at least mention them here. Landwalkers are always playable maindeck, as they are reasonable creatures in their own right, and which one is best is simply a matter of determining which colors will be most popular.

Don’t hesitate to let me know in the forums if you’d like to see a walkthrough on this format for next week. Until then…

Nick Eisel
[email protected]