Grand Prix Salt Lake City Day Two Crash Course:
I’ll be missing Grand Prix Salt Lake City, but I’m sure a large number of people will be off to what is basically the Magic 2015 send-off event.
I don’t know squat about non-team Sealed, but I think I have the draft format down.
Magic 2015 Draft is inherently aggressive. Basically, creatures don’t scale up that well between two and four mana while there are a reasonable number of
ways to swarm around or tempo-punish the high drops that are larger. As a result, blocking is bad but not Zendikar bad. Blocking usually means you have to
often make trades that aren’t super profitable on mana, but it is still possible to trade, and you have some time to build board states where your blocking
options become profitable.
What this means is that curve is very important.
As for the colors and how to specifically draft each:
White is not really a color you get passed into because of Triplicate Spirits. The card is obviously insane, but unlike the other insane common (Lightning
Strike), it requires a bigger commitment to play and builds more of a deck, resulting in people committing a lot more to it early on. If you are going to
end up in White, you A) need to cut it hard so that you can actually get playables pack two and B) be sure that it is actually flowing in your direction.
It’s certainly possible to have a good white deck while the person on your right is in white assuming good opens, but you need to be seeing white playables
around sixth through eighth pick pack one to have a reasonable chance at getting enough pack three. Not insane cards, but a Selfless Cathar or a similar
The other trap with getting passed into White is that the mid-level playables are quite passable. If you see a Triplicate Spirits, move in. If it’s just
some Razorfoot Griffins and Heliod’s Pilgrims, odds are you are getting the leftovers.
One card-specific note in White: Divine Favor is… I wouldn’t say great, but it definitely makes my deck more often than not. It’s way better than Marked
by Honor because the mana cost is a big deal, and the size pump is more relevant (on a Grizzly Bear, 4/4 is easier to beat than 3/5 here). It also pairs
very well with a lot of the offensive but fragile x/1 creatures like Oreskos Sun Guide or Welkin Tern, making them scary threats and hard to kill early on.
Blue is an odd ball. I really liked the color early in the draft format and still do, but the cards rarely support a heavy blue deck. Part of this is that
Welkin Tern is the only actively good two-drop (Research Assistant is much more Lumengrid Warden than Merfolk Looter), but the other part is that the blue
cards don’t require much commitment and don’t create huge incentives to be the color. Frost Lynx and Welkin Tern are exceptional, but in some decks they
are going to underperform. Past that you have a bunch of mid-pickable commons. As a result blue is a color that tends to come around a bit later than the
cards really should, and there are definite rewards to realizing it is open and jumping in a pick earlier than the next person. The cards to watch for are
basically just the best ones, as people tend to draft the best cards of other colors ahead of them based on the knowledge that Blue as a base color is a
bit weaker. Of course, even if you do realize a pick late, it’s not too bad because the cards don’t push you towards having a ton of Blue. The only times
you get cut out of Blue hard involve the person to your right opening some great rare like Soul of Ravnica, and when that happens, it should be obvious.
Note that I called out Frost Lynx and Welkin Tern. There’s also Into the Void at Uncommon. Blue is oddly best when you are attacking in this format. Being
defensive is possible with Coral Barrier and Jace’s Ingenuity, but the best blue decks turn sideways.
Black was a color we had pegged as the worst in the format in our team drafts before the Pro Tour, in part because the color has no top notch commons. It
certainly isn’t the best color, but with the right amount of finesse it is certainly good. In order for Black to work, you need a balance of all the parts.
The cards you should be looking for to tell you Black is open are usually Flesh to Dust towards the start of the pack, mid-pick Typhoid Rats and Carrion
Crows, and later Child of Nights. The rest of the cards are fairly interchangeable and just about finding the right pieces for the deck you are building
with the color.
Again, you want a bit of everything with a black deck, so if a card is going to not be in the packs later and doesn’t have a good replacement, that’s the
high pick. Flesh to Dust comes to mind as a card I take quite a bit higher than the power level if I know I’m going to be black as you just want one or two
and can barely function without it, but Typhoid Rats is similar if not a little more replaceable.
Also, Stab Would is great but a bit of a trap. The format is 2/2 based, as opposed to Return to Ravnica, which was 3/3 and defender-based. The card is more
of a Swat or Shock than a Phantom Warrior plus Sensory Deprivation.
Red is in the discussion with White for best color in the format, only it doesn’t have the Triplicate
Spirits flow issue. It also has a bit more heft going late than White does, with Scrapyard Mongrel having the honor of being the only Hill Giant in the
format and having a huge upside beyond that. You obviously won’t see a Lightning Strike late, so the signals here are Borderland Marauders any pick past
second and Krenko’s Enforcer or Inferno Fist in the few picks after that. Forge Devil fifth or later is also a bit of a signal, but I feel like that card
is a bit easier to underestimate and doesn’t carry the same amount of pull.
Also note that two of the commons I listed are double red to cast, or in the case of Inferno Fist, use immediately. This creates a definite divide between
the red decks that want nine or ten Mountains and the ones that want six or seven. You should know before pack three where you stand. Sometimes you just
want Lightning Strike and Burning Anger in your deck with sixteen green cards, so don’t take the Krenko’s Enforcer you can never cast.
Cone of Flame gets a lot of well-deserved hype as the mythic rare-level uncommon, but Brood Keeper is only a couple steps behind. The Firebreathing Dragon
token made from the trigger is insane in this format, trading with all the fliers except Razorfoot Griffin and usually killing in three hits. Good luck if
you ever trigger it twice. It’s obviously absolutely absurd in R/W, but even in other pairings you can make it shine with enough late pick Hammerhands. You
usually want around five ways to trigger it and preferably only one of those is Vineweft or Eternal Thirst unless you have multiple Brood Keepers.
Green is probably the color I have the most experience with. People online just don’t seem to want it, though I can’t blame them for passing on it to start
with. Similar to Black, there aren’t a lot of cards that draw people into Green. The best common is Netcaster Spider or Elvish Mystic, and while those are
probably top five commons, they don’t trump any of the great commons or uncommons.
A lot of people have Elvish Mystic over Netcaster Spider, and it certainly allows more nut draws and fills in the early curve, but simply put, there isn’t
a limit on Netcaster Spiders I would play, while I only want the first two Mystics. Spider also supports my next point, while the 1/1 body on Mystic isn’t
This also leads into the point I want to make about the color, and this really this applies to the whole format.
Green is best when you are attacking and doing so as soon as turns 4 and 5.
The best green deck involves Living Totem and Invasive Species, not Charging Rhino. That card is actually just barely playable, contrary to my first assessment of it as an awesome huge creature.
You want to be able to send your 3/3s into a red zone of 2/1s and 2/2s as soon as possible, play your combat trick, and put your opponent in a position
where they can’t catch up to block.
The exception involves the intersection Satyr Wayfinder, Siege Wurm or Feral Incarnation, and Restock. Satyr Wayfinder gives you a land and taps for a
mana, which lets you play either of the giant spells which represent more than a two-for-one of power and also lets you Restock multiple removal spells.
That said, this is not necessarily a full deck, and typically playing these cards is just five or so slots in a deck that also features the above plan of
Totems and Species beats.
Oddly enough, despite wanting to be aggressive with my green decks, I hate G/R. Green does take a bit longer to win than other color combinations, meaning
high drops like Souls and other bomby cards come into play more often. Blue and Black have the tools to go through those cards, while White has the tools
to go around them. Red really doesn’t offer much here. That isn’t to say I haven’t won an 8-4 or two with the color combination, but unless you are getting
first pick quality red cards, I would stay away.
Overall, all of the colors are quite reasonable, and winning a draft with any of them is very possible. White might be the most likely to do so, but that’s
only because the way it is drafted tends to be boom (it’s open and you have Triplicate Spirits for days) or bust (you get cut and move out mid-pack 1).
This weekend at PAX Prime quite a few Khans of Tarkir cards were spoiled.
Long story short: The hype on this set is definitely real.
Notice how Sultai Charm and Crackling Doom target a very specific creature: Stormbreath Dragon. Of all the creatures in the format, that is one of the most
constricting. In Block, control and midrange decks basically had to be black. While some of that was because Hero’s Downfall and Thoughtseize are insane,
some of that was because it was basically impossible to kill Stormbreath Dragon without black removal. While both of these cards require black mana to
cast, they are single black, and therefore, easier to splash. Hopefully other color combinations get more tools to handle that threat and the other
possibly problematic protection creature: Master of Waves.
Sultai Charm in particular is specifically non-red (Master of Waves) and non-white (Stormbreath Dragon). I still expect Hero’s Downfall to come first in
the removal slot here as killing Planeswalkers and new multicolored threats is a big deal, but I suspect there’s room for more of this style of effect in a
lot of decks.
Crackling Doom is reminiscent of Hit // Run at first glance, but I think it has a bit of an opposite function. Hit // Run was used in burn heavy decks to
attack midrange decks that leaned on four-drops like Lightning Angel and Loxodon Hierarch. This card doesn’t have the high damage potential, but it always
kills their most threatening guy. If a Mardu aggro decks pops up, this might be one of the removal spells of choice due to the bonus damage.
Or they might just cast Hero’s Downfall. That sounds like fun for the whole family.
It’s hard to judge Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker without seeing all of the cards from the new set. The indestructible isn’t too big against the Block removal
spell of choice (Hero’s Downfall) and the four damage doesn’t line up against Polukranos, but on the flip side the +1 lines up very well against all the
other Planeswalkers, and the -3 does kill basically everything but Polukranos.
Rattleclaw Mystic is obviously insane. Turn 4 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion–turn 3 with an Elvish Mystic. Who cares if it’s not on wedge? The fact that it hangs
around as a two-power creature even unmorphed is also huge, as two power means it can actually attack for reasonable amounts of damage.
Narset, Enlightened Master lets you cast planeswalkers off the attack trigger. That is all. Unsure if you would rather spend six mana on this than Elspeth
especially when it gets blocked down by Courser of Kruphix, but it’s certainly not unthinkable. Also worth noting that it combos pretty well with the new
Abzan Wrath – Duneblast – in some wacky five-color deck.
Fetchlands are honestly great. In Standard I’ll just play whatever fixers they give me, so I’m mostly excited about how they change Modern. The big deal is
how they make specific two color decks have significantly less painful or awkward mana. And by specific two color decks, I basically mean Faeries. Not that
the all non-basic manabase the deck plays now isn’t workable, but Polluted Delta makes Blood Moon a joke instead of a potential issue. At the least it
means you get to play less Darkslick Shores and not tilt off when it’s your fourth land. U/W Midrange gets a similar boost, if not more as it actively
played Glacial Fortress before, but that deck probably wants the extra color to begin with.
Mardu Skullhunter will be important if the Block shell of Black Aggro stays around, as the deck was short on two-drops, but I’m not expecting that to be
the case in multicolored set world.
I’m not sold on Necropolis Fiend, especially as Tombstalker usually empties graveyards in Legacy, let alone this format, but if it means that Nighthowler
and Strength of the Fallen get more help, I’m pumped.
Sorin, Solemn Visitor isn’t the most outright powerful planeswalker, but I think it has a place. The fact that the token-making ability is a -2 and makes a
smaller body signals to me you want to protect him by attacking, which also lines up with the +1 Anthem effect. To clarify, my implication here is that you
want to play him in a deck that pressures your opponent into blocking, making an attack on Sorin cost them a turn on defense and the life that comes with
The card that has me most excited is Icefeather Aven, but I always love these creatures that look undercosted (admittedly this may be by 2003 terms) and
have a big plus attached. There’s so much flexibility here. Morph it on turn 3 to Time Walk a Polukranos, cast it as a beater on turn 2 that flies over
Sylvan Caryatid, or just use its “kicker” mode of 4UG flying Man-o’-war. At the least I’m slamming this first pick in Limited.
Note on morph in Limited: I don’t yet know how creature sizing works in this format, but in Onslaught the format revolved around the sizing and tempo that
the infinite Grey Ogres provided. I doubt the format will allow for the same morph density, and I bet creature sizing has increased significantly, but keep
in mind that any three mana or more 2/2 is going to have to jump through a lot of hoops to be good.
If the mana and speed of Block is any indication, we are heading right into a world where wedges and the Khans cards that fit them will be right at home.
Between that, my love of multicolored Limited formats, and how great every card revealed so far has been, I’m pumped for the set.
At the very least, I hope that this Pro Tour trip to Hawaii doesn’t result in a plane on fire, a near drowning ( search for Icarus), or a half marathon walk without sunscreen.