Rise Of The Minotaur

Grand Prix Charlotte champion Frank Skarren tells you about the R/B Minotaurs deck he drafted last week and why he thinks the tribe is powerful in Limited.

Since the beginning of Magic, there has been an ongoing theme loved by new players and veterans alike. The theme I’m talking about is creature tribes: playing a large number of the same creature type to get synergistic benefit off of cards like Goblin King and Lord of Atlantis. Throughout Magic’s illustrious history, a number of tribes have had their day in the sun. Elves, Goblins, Merfolk, Slivers, Kithkin, Faeries, Zombies, and countless others have brought their tribal powers to the table.

I’m here to tell you that today marks a new era. With the release of Theros, a new tribe is ready to rise to the top. Enter the Minotaur! This burly bunch is primed to bring about oppressive tyranny the likes of which has never been seen. Well . . . at least in Limited.

Last week a bunch of my friends and I got together for my birthday to go out to dinner and celebrate the best way I know how: drafting some Magic. After a great meal, Joe Demestrio, Joe Pennachio, Alec Nezin, Corey Mann, Dom Nasta, and I all headed back to my place to get our draft on. This was only my second time drafting Theros, so I was very excited. The set is awesome and has potential to be one of the best Limited formats ever. As we opened our packs, my excitement was rewarded right off the bat as I saw a foil Heliod, God of the Sun and a Spear of Heliod staring back at me.

As awesome as this may seem, it was not a position I was happy to be in. Heliod and his Spear are powerful Draft cards, but unfortunately they’re both white.* Taking either would likely send Pennachio next to me a very strong signal to go into white, almost ensuring that I would get cut off in pack 2. White doesn’t look like it is the deepest color in Theros Draft, so fighting for it seemed like a bad place to be. I quickly thumbed through the pack to see if there was a better option that would leave the people to my left the squabble over white.

Low and behold, I found my salvation in Purphoros’s finest Ox. Although I had yet to play with this card, it appeared to be a great option for an aggressive red deck. On top of that, it was the only playable red card in the pack, meaning while the fight for white was going on next to me red would be left alone. My next two picks were a little less exciting but secretly set me up for one of the stronger decks I’ve ever had. I picked up a Deathbellow Raider and Minotaur Skullcleaver, keeping in line with my desire to be aggressive. When fourth pick rolled around, I flipped up my pack and was greeted by this guy:

My first thought: "Huh, I kinda forgot this card exists." My second went something like this: "Is Deathbellow Raider a Minotaur? Check. Is Minotaur Skullcleaver a Minotaur? Duh. Darn, Purphoros’s Emissary is an Ox. I guess that’s like half a Minotaur." With two Minotaurs already in the bag, I figured Kragma Warcaller was a decent pick, and I could prioritize getting more down the road. What I ended up with is nothing short of beautiful.

This deck is so good; it does things you can’t even do in Legacy! It has five Deathbellow Raiders. All bad jokes aside, the deck did end up being very good, largely due to Kragma Warcaller. Any game where I backed up an aggressive curve with a Warcaller it felt like the deck was unbeatable.

I did make one error during the draft and was lucky enough not to get punished for it. In pack 3 I was faced with choosing between a third Minotaur Skullcleaver and a first Borderland Minotaur. I already had three Purphoros’s Emissarys and a Cavern Lampad, so my four slot wasn’t lacking. Somehow I managed to trick myself into taking the Borderland Minotaur anyway, which could have seriously hurt the curve and consistency of my deck. The important take away from this however:

It tabled!

In this set a lot of people are aiming to draft bigger and slower strategies, so a card like Minotaur Skullcleaver is much more likely to table than usual. Even if there are other red drafters at the table, they just might not be interested in such an aggressive card. If I could go back, I would take Skullcleaver and not risk it, but I’m positive if I had taken it the first time around the Borderland Minotaur would not have tabled, so it is something to think about.

Another important part of this draft can be seen in the two Dark Betrayals in my sideboard. Dark Betrayal is an extremely potent sideboard card, especially for a deck like this. Being able to spend one mana to deal with a threat or blocker is incredibly efficient and allows us to set up turns where you can play a creature and a removal spell for maximum tempo. I took both Dark Betrayals over mediocre playables in pack 2 and will definitely be doing so moving forward. Yeah, you might play that Scourgemark but it’s not going to make or break your deck. Having an easy answer to the Returned Phalanx threatening to eat your Deathbellow Raider however . . .

This deck was a little tricky to build, and I’d like to go over a few of the choices I made. The decision to play sixteen lands was relatively easy. I wanted my draws going late to be as live as possible. Because of this, I knew playing Sip of Hemlock as a six-mana removal spell wasn’t a viable option. In a deck like this, the Threaten effect in Portent of Betrayal is usually better than killing their creature anyway.

Although I opted not to play Akroan Crusader and try to get some heroic going, I still played one of the Dragon Mantles. It’s the most powerful of the cantrip Aura cycle even when you’re not getting bonuses from targeting your creatures. It also played very well with Spearpoint Oread’s first strike and was instrumental at making sure Deathbellow Raider was a legitimate midgame threat even without Kragma Warcaller around.

After the draft we made teams at random; the winning team would get to keep all the rares we opened. The breakdown looked like this:

Team One

Frank – R/B Minotaurs
Corey – B/W with heroic subtheme
Dom – W/B Fliers

Team Two

Alec – U/R Tempo
Pennachio – G/W/R Fatties splashing Xenagos, the Reveler
JD- U/B/G Control splashing two Nessian Asps

Unfortunately, Dom was two seats to my left, which meant he ended up taking the foil Heliod and got cut very hard on white. He couldn’t even play the Heliod in the end because most of his white cards were spells and turning it into a creature was literally impossible. His deck was mostly blue-based fliers like Nimbus Naiad and Vaporkin backed by Divine Verdict and a few combat tricks. Getting cut so hard in packs 1 and 3 hurt a little bit too much, so he was only able to go 1-2.

Corey’s deck ended up a little bit more in the train wreck department than we would have liked. He got caught somewhere between an aggressive heroic deck and a more controlling B/W deck. Because of this, he was lacking a solid plan and playables and also ended up going 1-2. He did, however, pull out a masterful game 3 against Pennachio, which involved him siding in Colossus of Akros, giving it lifelink with Hopeful Eidolon, and stalling things out until he could go monstrous.

The first team to win five matches was going to be the winner of the draft, so with Dom and Corey going 2-4 it was going to take a 3-0 from the Minotaur army to get the job done. My first match was against Alec. His deck was a midrange flier deck that used Griptide and Voyage’s End to stall the ground out until he could win in the air. Luckily Kragma Warcaller gives not only itself but the entire Minotaur tribe haste, which rendered Alec’s tempo plays much less efficient. That combined with a good curve led to a match win and this statement from Alec: "Watch out guys. Frank’s deck is the nuts."

Round 2 I played against Joe Demestrio, who was rocking a very saucy U/B/G Control deck. His deck featured two Prognostic Sphinxes, two Rescue from the Underworlds, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Oh, and his main win condition was Colossus of Akros. It’s safe to say he went pretty deep. Luckily for me his deck was a little slow and clunky. In the first game, I was able to top my curve off with both Kragma Warcallers. Swinging on turn 6 with multiple six-power creatures is usually enough to get the job done. Game 2 he set up his defenses very quickly with Returned Phalanx and Guardians of Meletis. I was able to use my sideboarded Dark Betrayals to punch through early, and even though he had a good defense set up, he never really got much going.

With two wins under my belt, we began round 3, which paired me against Pennachio. This was the pairing I was dreading the most. His creatures were very well set up to block early and go on offense once he had the board stabilized. To top things off, he had a Fleecemane Lion in his deck, which would be an absolute nightmare for my Deathbellow Raiders. Luckily game 1 didn’t involve a turn 2 Lion, and I was able to ride an aggressive curve to victory. For game 2, he had a very strong curve into Spear of Heliod, and my first pick came back to bite me. While I got beaten down by giant green monsters, I couldn’t even attack back without losing a creature.

It all came down to the pivotal game 3. Going into game 2, I had sideboarded in the third Portent of Betrayal, which matched up incredibly well against his slower creatures. However, for game 3, I wanted more ability to punch through. Enter Prowler’s Helm. Prowler’s Helm would give me some real late-game power, turning any creature into a game-ending threat. It’s because of this that I kept a slower hand for game 3 featuring Cavern Lampad and the Helm. I managed to get some early damage in, and by the time I dropped the Helm, I was able to use it to close things out.

Thanks to my new bovine friends, I was able to 3-0 and win the draft for my team. I certainly can’t complain with a birthday ending like that. Oh yeah, and these are the rares we were playing for:


So much power and I didn’t even get to play a single rare in my deck. Where is Rageblood Shaman when you need it?

All in all, I was really impressed by the power of Minotaurs in Draft. I can easily see Kragma Warcaller being a build-around first pick moving forward because the card is absolutely insane. Who knows, with a little more support in the upcoming sets, maybe Minotaurs will be able to take their talents to the Constructed scene. Fingers crossed!

*If I had to choose between these two, I would definitely go with Spear of Heliod. Anthem effects are already powerful in Limited and get much better once you strap a recurring Avenging Arrow on. I also find the Gods outside of Thassa and Purphoros to be underwhelming in Limited.