The Emperor Draft Chronicles: Answering the Call to Duty

Once upon a time, I offered you a peek into a new and exciting multiplayer format: Emperor Draft. Not that long ago, I continued the tale with some discussion of drafting as the Emperor, replete with card assessments and viable draft strategies. Since then, Betrayers has made its debut, threatening to wreak havoc on the current Emperor draft strategy and make obsolete any advice I could provide. Fortunately, with a few Champions-Champions-Betrayers drafts under my belt, I have met and tamed that growling tiger – and I am now ready to continue our adventure.

Once upon a time, I offered you a peek into a new and exciting multiplayer format: Emperor Draft. Not that long ago, I continued the tale with some discussion of drafting as the Emperor, replete with card assessments and viable draft strategies.

I might have even promised to continue the story and discuss the duties of the Generals.

Since then, Betrayers has made its debut, threatening to wreak havoc on the current Emperor draft strategy and make obsolete any advice I could provide. Fortunately, with a few Champions-Champions-Betrayers drafts under my belt, I have met and tamed that growling tiger. I am now ready to continue our adventure.

You’ve had a chance to play a couple of Emperor drafts, each time managing to finagle one of the two coveted Emperor spots. You’ve enjoyed the power kick of controlling people’s destinies. You relished the wince from your opponent when you pinged Kokusho, the Evening Star with your Frostwielder in response to a Rend Spirit to remove it from the game. You laughed when your opponents begged for mercy after casting Kumano, Master Game-Ender for the third time that night. Tonight you headed over to a friend’s house for the weekly Magic night, with notions of drafting a Honden deck.

Your friends, feeling slightly power-starved, had other ideas. Wanting their share of the glamour seat, two of them took control and relegated you to the ignominious position of General. Not seasoned in battle, no formal training on the front lines, no concept of how to be subservient – how could you answer such a call to duty?

Quite easily, my dictatorial friend: You see, the concept of Emperor and General is really quite misleading when it comes to draft. Even though you may play the part of an expendable troop during the game, it is the Generals who control the draft. Recall that when playing the Emperor format, the Emperor cannot attack until he’s directly squaring off against an opponent. Now consider the fact that in any Limited format, the main avenue for victory is through combat – i.e., doing damage to your opponent with unblocked creatures. This means that in Emperor draft, an Emperor will mainly be searching for spells and creatures with abilities that will remove opposing blockers and/or assist in keeping his own Generals’ creatures alive.

It should be painfully obvious that in a random booster pack of fifteen cards, the Emperor will most likely deem about half the cards undraftable from his vantage point. The General, on the other hand, does not have these restrictions. Since she is directly in the field of combat, she can make use of both creatures and creature removal. Now take a gander at the following Emperor draft seating:

(insert Emperor Draft Table picture here)

Notice that each Emperor is between two opposing Generals. This means that each card in a booster pack has to go through enemy hands. The Emperor is at the mercy of what the General decides to pass along. The General can choose to take a powerful creature over the Rend Spirit, or can take the Rend Spirit and leave nothing usable for the Emperor. Just as the General has control of what gets passed to the Emperor, the opposing General also has control of what the Emperor passes along to his teammate. If the Emperor is trying to pass a powerful creature to his General, it must go through the hands of the opposing General. Since the opposing General is employing the same strategy, she can easily take out which card the Emperor might be trying to pass along. A good creature will not get by that General unless you can somehow tempt her with something else.

Such power can be a glorious sight to behold – provided you know how to abuse it properly. There are two situations where you can take advantage of this setup, depending on which way the draft is flowing. First, imagine you are a General and the cards are being passed from the opposing General on your left to the enemy Emperor on your right. The remainder of the pack that has just been passed to you looks as follows:


Genju of the Cedars

Horobi’s Whisper

Kumano’s Blessing

Mask of Sakiko

Ribbons of the Rekai

Toils of Night and Day


(You can’t believe what seven cards could be better than Horobi’s Whisper and Genju of the Cedars, but you aren’t going to question your good fortune.)

At first blush, it might be extremely tempting to take Genju of the Cedars – a recurring 4/4 that can start attacking on turn 3 is extremely powerful in limited. But before grabbing the Genju blindly and happily passing on the Horobi’s Whisper to the opposing Emperor, wipe the drool off your chin. Take a second to think about the sequence of drafters on your left – Emperor, then teammate General. Of the remaining cards, the next drafter, the Emperor, will most likely only be interested in the Horobi’s Whisper and the Toils of Night and Day. If the Genju of the Cedars were still in this pack, there is a possibility that will be passed up by the Emperor, who would have no use for it. That Genju would then get passed on to your teammate.

Instead of taking the Genju of the Cedars for yourself, a better bet would be to select the Horobi’s Whisper. This way, not only have you taken a powerful spell from the Emperor, you’ve pushed a powerful creature to your teammate.

This example is a little extreme, since there is a chance that the Emperor will quickly recognize the power of the Genju and choose it anyway, just to prevent it from reaching an enemy General. However, as the card pool starts to thin and there become fewer and fewer usable spells for the Emperor, this is a ripe opportunity to deny the Emperor quality spells while passing useful creatures to assist your counterpart.

Second, imagine the reverse situation, where the cards are being passed from the Emperor on your right towards the General on your left. Instead of trying to prevent cards from getting to the Emperor, you are now attempting to find ways to sneak cards through to your own Emperor. The best way to apply this strategy is to try and pass through enough Emperor-style spells so that even if one is scooped up by the General, there will still be something available to your Emperor. Where you were taking spells and passing creatures before, now you want to be choosing creatures and passing spells. For example, you’ve been handed the following cards:

Goblin Cohort

Petalmane Baku

Shimmering Glasskite

Takenuma Bleeder

Taproot Kami

Torrent of Stone

Waxmane Baku

Assume, for the sake of argument, that black is the primary color you have drafted to this point. Your secondary color choice has been wavering between red or green. To you, the most appealing cards would be Torrent of Stone and Takenuma Bleeder. The Torrent of Stone, being a removal spell, may be most desirable; however, the only two cards that your Emperor would be able to make use of from this pack are the Waxmane Baku and the Torrent of Stone. If you take one of these two cards away, the door is open for the next drafter – the opposing General – to deny your Emperor the remaining card.

The best card choice in this situation would be the Takenuma Bleeder. If the opposing General takes the Waxmane Baku, at least the Torrent of Stone will make it to your Emperor. If you’ve managed to lure the General into grabbing the Torrent of Stone, enjoy the little jig from your Emperor when he receives the pack.

You’ve learned to control the fates of those around you – but what about yours?

There is one basic rule of thumb as General in Kamigawa Emperor draft: your mana curve starts and stops at two. If you’ve studied your Limited, you understand that Kamigawa is very tempo-oriented. As I often say, “If you cast your first creature on turn 4, you will lose.” Essentially, there are enough aggressive creatures and removal that a solidly built deck will be able to cast creatures quickly for critical early damage. The removal spells serve as backup to keep the board clear and the creatures serving for the few final blows to the opponent.

Visualize playing this strategy in Emperor, where there are now two people with removal spells to keep the board clear. You play a first-turn Frostling. Your opponent responds with her first land. You attack for one, and play a Humble Budoka on the second turn. Your opponent lays a second land. Turn 3, a Ronin Houndmaster appears on your side and knocks your opponent down to fourteen. Your opponent responds with a Gnarled Mass on her turn, but your Emperor targets it with Yamabushi’s Flame at the beginning of your turn. Another five damage leaves your opponent at nine life, while you manage to cast both a Hearth Kami and a Nezumi Cutthroat.

At this point in the game, there is a total of nine potential damage on the table. Even the opposing Emperor can remove a creature and the General cast a blocker, there are still three creatures to her one. With an Emperor on your side providing the potential to clear the way, this easily turns into a situation from which your opponent will be hard-pressed to recover.

As a General, it is important to be thinking cheap and fast. Go aggressively for the two-power, two-casting cost creatures. Pass up that tantalizing Honden of Night’s Reach for the Orochi Ranger. Pick Nezumi Cutthroat over Kodama’s Reach. Let the opposing Emperor have Torrent of Stone if it means an opportunity to take Sosuke’s Summons. Although the Genjus seek to deny mana every turn, their power more than makes up for the commitment. The Genjus should be acknowledged as part of the aggressive draft strategy and picked accordingly.

Cheap removal also belongs in any aggressive deck, not just with the Emperor. Don’t hesitate to take the Glacial Rays and Rend Spirits if someone is kind enough to pass them along.

Like all good rules of thumb, this one requires a backup plan when your aggression strategy becomes blocked or your offense starts to stall. It is critical to be able to draft one or two large, powerful creatures for the late game. Grab the dragons when they come. If an Emperor is kind enough to pass an Ink-Eyes, graciously accept it. If you happen to be drafting green, pick up a Moss Kami early – odds are that it will not return. Patrons suit this role as well. Above all, regardless of what colors you are pursuing, take the Ghostly Prison. This solitary, seemingly-innocuous card completely shuts down all aggressive strategies. The best possible scenario is for you to be able to play Ghostly Prison on turn 3. The worst possible scenario is to be facing it on turn 3.

The two ideal starting colors to draft for an aggressive deck in the Kamigawa block are black and red. Black is the most desirable color because not only does it have several common creatures in the two-power, two-drop slots, it also the supporting removal. With the addition of more cards of this type from Betrayers like Skullsnatcher and Horobi’s Whisper, black’s position remains strong as one of the best colors to draft as General. To get a sense of how one might draft black in this format, here is a quick rundown of several cards that you will want to pay attention to:


Cruel Deceiver

Genju of the Fens

Nezumi Cutthroat

Nezumi Graverobber

Nezumi Ronin

Ogre Marauder

Scourge of Numai


Takenuma Bleeder

Villainous Ogre

Wicked Akuba


Horobi’s Whisper

Rend Flesh

Rend Spirit

Sickening Shoal

Red can boast a similar claim to black, thanks to the big boost it received in the aggression department from Betrayers. Cards like Goblin Cohort, Frostling, Blademane Baku, and Shinka Gatekeeper give red the additional cheap creatures required to pair up with its removal. Unfortunately, Betrayers makes up only one third of the available card pool. This results in a similar situation to Kamigawa-only drafts, where red has a solid enough creature base to support only one General.

If you choose to go into red, be wary of what red cards are available to you. Give people on either side no reason to draft this color. Be prepared to drop red if you don’t see at least two of the cards listed below by the start of the second pack.


Akki Raider

Blademane Baku

Ember-Fist Zubera


Genju of the Spires

Goblin Cohort

Hearth Kami

Ronin Houndmaster

Shinka Gatekeeper


First Volley

Glacial Ray

Hanabi Blast

Yamabushi’s Flame

Once a base color of red or black has been established, the best supporting colors are white and green, provided you don’t end up in the ideal situation of managing to draft both black and red.

White and green both have several decent, well-costed creatures – why wouldn’t you select a Kitsune Blademaster over a Hearth Kami? The argument boils down to tempo. Even though Kitsune Blademaster is well worth the one extra mana in exchange for Bushido and first strike, the Blademaster ends up being a more defensive card in terms of tempo.

Picture a scenario where you are facing down a Cruel Deceiver and an Orochi Ranger. There is only a Kitsune Blademaster on your side of the table. Even though the Kitsune Blademaster could easily pass through unharmed, you would only be sending through two points of damage while your opponent retaliates with four. As such, your Blademaster is nothing more than a glorified wall at this stage of the game. A much more aggressive deck can be formed if those two-drops are grabbed early to establish dominance in that color. You can pick up the useful white cards later.

The same goes for green. Even though Orochi Rangers, Humble Budokas, and Gnarled Masses can run rampant, the aggressive creature curve for green stops there. In addition, green has no removal. Again, it is better to establish yourself in one of the more desirable colors and then pick up the beef from green towards the end.

Lastly, and most intriguing, I left blue out of the equation on purpose. Were this a Kamigawa-only draft, there are several reasons to dismiss blue as a color unworthy of a General. Even though blue has several evasive flying creatures, many of them are expensive and quite fragile, with many of then sporting a single point of toughness. However, blue has retaliated against such blatant disregard with the introduction of the ninjas. Ninja of the Deep Hours can effectively be a 2/2 for 1U, while offering an additional card. Mistblade Shinobi can effectively show an opponent down for one turn at the low cost of U.

This is a good reason to tinker with blue as a second color, provided you keep two warnings in mind: First, there is only one pack of Betrayers, limiting the number of solid blue spells available. Second, blue only complements the aggressive strategy if you have unblocked creatures. If the deck you have drafted up to the point when you are ready to open the Betrayers pack can support this strategy, it is definitely one worth experimenting with.

All right, General – you’ve just been formally trained, given your supplies, and are ready for your first battle. Now go out there and make your countrymen proud!