I’m done with being average at Pro Tour Limited.
Starting now I’m playing a minimum of two Limited events a week.
I’m going to be writing about Limited on a much more regular basis. Even if I’m wrong, presumably everyone yelling at me in the comments will fix that.
These are the things I think I understand about Theros Draft color by color.
Top 5 Commons
Excuse Me, Do You Have A Moment To Talk About Wingsteed Rider?
Wingsteed Rider is the best white common.
If it were uncommon, it would be the best white uncommon.
Wingsteed Rider is the reason you are white in this format. White is heavily focused on profitable heroic interactions. Wingsteed Rider is the only heroic common in the color. None of the other white commons are even good at "wearing pants," which is what you want replacement non-heroic guys to do.
Looking at the other non-rare heroic guys, Wingsteed Rider even surpasses them in the game-winning department. Even though some cost one less, built-in evasion beats being a dorky ground dude any day. Even though at first glance it looks like Phalanx Leader is Gavony Township on legs and should be better, the argument is much closer to Baneslayer Angel versus Glorious Anthem.
On the subject of crazy rare Angels, Wingsteed Rider is a step removed from Exalted Angel. In a very similar format with minimal cheap removal, Exalted Angel was easily a windmill slam. While it’s now a two-card combo, building your own Exalted Angel with commons is easy in Theros Draft. When I see this combo assembled early in the game, I think the player wielding it is at least 80% to win.
The Heroic Issue
As mentioned above, there is only one common heroic guy in white. As I also mentioned above, none of the other white commons are good at picking up Auras and bashing or really combat in general.
This leaves you filling in an off-color curve with white guys and the uncommons you can find.
This leaves you short on quality guys in general.
When you don’t just get handed the nuts Heroic deck, drafting white is about stretching the guys you can find to win the game when they get hooked up.
Green is easy, as green is just stacked with guys that hold their own and don’t mind a boost or two. If your second color is red, that means Two-Headed Cerberus is going to be your go-to guy. Blue’s fliers aren’t bad targets, and I’ve killed more people than I care to admit with a six power Omenspeaker. Black though . . . there’s a reason W/B is one of the two "bad" color combinations in Theros.
Shortcuts Are White Too
Leonin Snarecaster plays a very important role in white decks. It is a two-drop that can perform when drawn later in the game. While white has its fair share of two-drops at common, the others are quite frankly just there if you draw them on turn 7. Snarecaster later on often pushes in a solid chunk of damage or blows a hole in a carefully crafted block setup. It’s still a Goblin Piker at heart, but it means well. If Last Breath on an early heroic guy or Keepsake Gorgon weren’t so important, this would be on the Top 5 list.
Everybody Loves Ray of Dissolution
This is obviously good against any white deck, taking care of Hopeful Eidolon or Observant Alseid. Against green you can counter their best combat trick (Feral Invocation) or push your fliers through a Leafcrown Dryad. Against black it trades for Baleful Eidolon, their best ground blocker. Blue gets blown out when their Nimbus Naiad dies mid-combat and their guy falls into waiting blockers.
Ray is an instant-speed answer that often turns their two-for-one around the other way and gains life in an often race-heavy format. You obviously don’t want a ton, but I’m always on the lookout for one.
Top 5 Commons
The Vaporkin Dilemma
In practice Vaporkin plays out awkwardly.
Theros Draft is a lot about being able to favorably arrange your creatures for combat. Vaporkin does not let you do that. Blue decks also can have issues coming back from behind early. Vaporkin not only doesn’t help there but is one of the reasons you end up behind around turn 4.
It is a reasonable target for an Aura. It is still a fine flying threat. It does have later-game potential, unlike a bear. But as a general-purpose two-drop, it has a lot of flaws. Omenspeaker does more work early and often more work late.
It’s very easy to end up short on creatures in Theros Draft, so I rarely take a combat trick over a reasonable guy. Most of the combat tricks are also fairly interchangeable (Savage Surge versus Feral Invocation versus Battlewise Valor) or a bit situational (Gods Willing only stops trades and doesn’t trade up).
The notable exception?
Every time you cast Triton Tactics, it’s a giant beating. A reasonable race often turns into a swept board.
The worst part about playing against the card is that so much of the time the best play with a Triton Tactics in hand makes it completely obvious they have the card. Even with this there is rarely anything you can do about it. You cannot attack into it, but usually the blue deck has the evasive threat and extending the game is very much in their favor. Attacking with just one guy usually just puts you cold to their other trick or different blocks or them just ignoring it.
The best way to beat a Triton Tactics is often just pretending it doesn’t exist.
Top 5 Commons
Fleshmad Steeds have stopped wheeling on Magic Online, and that makes me sad.
The biggest issue I run into when drafting black decks is a lack of reasonable two-drops. Part of the issue is that when you are missing removal black decks are terrible, and as a result you have to take removal over basically everything. Without removal the black cards are just small and ineffective at winning games. Removal is what lets you get in chip shots and eventually win off a Gray Merchant or Mogis’s Marauders. As a result, if there is any fight over black, you are often put into a scenario where the two-drops don’t show up late and your deck comes up lacking an important piece of the puzzle
Even when you get the two-drops, black’s two-drops have issues helping out in the game-winning department. Most other colors have two-drops that can represent a decent clock against a stumbling opponent. Black has Baleful Eidolon, which is an embarrassing attacker and often blanked by evasive threats, and Returned Phalanx, which is only awesome if you have the blue mana to turn it sideways.
It doesn’t help that black tends to monopolize mana bases, making relying on "off-color" two-drops awkward. It’s not that the cards are color intensive, but two of your incentive commons are devotion based and pull your spell composition to nearly monocolor. You can cast two-drops off 10-7 mana bases, but it’s not the optimal configuration.
There is only so far a Gray Merchant of Asphodel can reach. Even if you have four copies of the first-pick Zombie, you will have to win games with a mere one Merchant trigger for eight or ten.
It’s also hard to have enough removal in this format, especially against green. You can kill their first Nessian Asp, but when you have to kill their second copy and their Vulpine Goliath and whatever else they draw, you will run out of answers.
If you are playing black, you need ways to deal damage. As stupid as that sounds, it’s very easy to end up with a deck that has no way to close. The black rares are all awesome, but there aren’t really Air Elementals at common. Sentry of the Underworld is the closest thing, and it fails to win games through any of the blue fliers or green reach guys.
Unless you are all in on Scholar of Athreos, your black deck needs to be the beatdown or be able to get in a lot of chip shots.
Top 2 Commons
Red is the color I have the least experience with in the format. I really disliked a lot of my early results with it. U/R was the one color combination I felt was actively bad despite some numbers people collected saying otherwise. W/R was a thing but suffered from awkward mana. R/G was a thing but missed a lot of the benefits of white (aggressive curve) and black (generic removal).
The more I draft the format, the more I realize red is similar to blue in Innistrad. All the different red decks have very different needs and pick orders. W/R really wants Two-Headed Cerberus to suit up, while U/R and B/R would much rather have the standalone threat of Minotaur Skullcleaver in that slot. R/G doesn’t want Portent of Betrayal or Deathbellow Raider so much as it wants Boulderfall.
Notice that I’ve only listed two commons as being clearly at the top of the heap. Everything else is relative.
When red is "open," pay close attention to what you are seeing. It might be easy to pick up the red you need, but your normal choice for second color might not match what you are getting.
Return To Zendikar
The one red deck I’ve really liked in this format has been Zendikar-style B/R. This may just be because it is the most straightforward. Early dudes, random tricks and removal, all the Ordeals you can find. My best example had three 2/Xs for one and seven two-drops.
Note that this is not necessarily a Minotaur deck. I actually am not a huge fan of Kragma Warcaller since the high drop slot is fairly easy to fill and fairly interchangeable. Even if the lord is the best one, you don’t want to be playing Felhide Minotaurs because they are good with your five-drop.
Rageblood Shaman though. That guy is sweet.
Top 5 Commons
Green is the deepest color by quite a bit. There are eight or nine super-solid commons, including multiple great two-drops, the best late-game cards, and removal. The uncommons aren’t quite as great, but you can easily have three people fighting over green at a table that all end up with reasonable decks. Past the five I listed above, every green deck I play wouldn’t mind a Staunch-Hearted Warrior, Vulpine Goliath, or Feral Invocation. Even a Savage Surge isn’t terrible.
Green is the only color in this format where it’s hard to tell if you are getting cut, and honestly I’m not sure if it really matters half the time.
It’s comical how many decks just fold to a 3/3 in this format.
That’s a bit of an overstatement. If you are only 3/3s, your opponent might be able to present a defense that wins.
When the 3/3 is followed by a 4/5 and then a 6/5, it gets really rough.
Green wins most games by having the base-stats advantage in combat. You play your guy; your opponent can spend their turn trading their trick for it or not attack. You then attack, representing a trick they can’t really beat, and follow up with a bigger guy. Each turn they take a huge hit, and each turn things don’t get any better for them.
Green in Theros is classic Dinosaurs, only starting on 3 instead of 5.
I’m very happy with Theros Draft as a whole. The format is awesome—but for all the opposite reasons Innistrad was awesome. Instead of being about weird synergies and oddball decks that only happen once, Theros Draft is about solid Limited combat. The removal is light enough to not dominate but prevalent enough to not be absent ala Avacyn Restored. Card advantage and creature sizing are things, but turn-by-turn sequencing and combat decisions easily overrule both.
As mentioned at the top, I’m looking to you for additional opinions. If you strongly agree or disagree with anything I said here, let me know.