In the grocery store, my partner and I always start at the Manager’s Special section. Other people call this “old meat.” Buying whatever is about to expire forces us to be creative for dinner — a miniature Chopped challenge — while netting us a 30-50% savings on the regular price. That is, as long as we remember to cook it before mold creeps in.
Applying this same heuristic to Ikoria Draft, I’m looking for my “meat” cards: archetype enablers the bots are putting on sale. Or maybe they’re just feeling vegan for a set. Either way that leads us to the New York Strip of IKO: Tentative Connection.
Using Average Last Seen At (ALSA) and Average Taken At (ATA) data from 17Lands.com, Tentative Connection lands at 9.22 and a whopping 11.44, respectively. It’s so available it would uninstall Tinder with the bots swiping “left” so often. Let’s look at how we can build a shell around it and how that works in the current metagame.
Our goal is primarily to take their best threat, hopefully bash for some damage, and then get value by sacrificing it. While Rakdos Sacrifice is consistently viable in Constructed, it rarely gets its shine in Limited. Your sacrifice outlets can feel overpriced for little return, like paying $15 for eggs at brunch. In Ikoria, they’re few but powerful, like the perfect pancakes.
Your headliner is a possible wheel card: Weaponize the Monsters. This underrated uncommon won over its biggest skeptics by the end of the Draft format. Sadly, no one told the bots, as its ALSA of 5.65 puts it in the same range as fine playables like Almighty Brushwagg (5.89) or Cathartic Reunion (5.85).
Being able to steal a significant threat and then pick off a smaller one or go to your opponent’s face is big game and one you’re happy to have in enchantment form in Best-of-One. They never interact with it. The only downside is the cost of two generic mana, as getting to six lands during faster starts can be a chore.
Next up is Mutual Destruction, which feels less mutual and more nasty each time I cast it. A typical play pattern will be an opponent casting an enormous threat, attacking with an existing threat, and feeling like they’re in control. You untap, steal their blocking beater, and get in with it plus your whole squad. Then you leave their battlefield empty by sacrificing their creature to Mutual Destruction. Like shopping for Fritos, this leads to a lot of scoops.
We happily play Bushmeat Poacher, the bots’ twelfth-favorite black common, as our final outlet. What it lacks in the ability to interact with our opponent, it makes up for by replenishing our hand and gaining some incidental life along the way when we’re racing. Combine it with Durable Coilbug and you have a fine little engine that your opponent must answer. Think Thomas the Trolley Dilemma.
Buy One, Get One Free
With a veritable feast of sacrifice outlets, let’s look for some fodder for them. Chief among them is Whisper Squad (ATA 6.06), the opposite volume of every bachelorette party I’ve performed for. Once you hit your squad goals of a minimum of three, these pop off and give you late Weaponize bodies, Lurking Deadeye damage, and more. After removal, these are my favorite early picks.
Forbidden Friendship (ATA 8.23) is another body generator I’ve grown to love that you’ll pick up in the later packs. Spelleater Wolverine isn’t entirely out of place in the deck and Forbidden Friendship is, you know, a spell to help us hit that magical three. When given a choice of which to sacrifice, I always opt for the Human in case I need a non-Human/mutate target.
An honorable mention goes to Nightsquad Commando (ATA 8.56) which almost always nets you a token.
Now that we have our core, let’s fill out the rest of this with our best commons, lest we leave our Pillsbury Doughboy half-inflated.
- Creatures: Boot Nipper, Lurking Deadeye, Durable Coilbug, Spelleater Wolverine, Serrated Scorpion, and Ferocious Tigorilla all get the nod in addition to those highlighted above. Note that we’re less interested in vertical mutants, as we will be sacrificing our battlefield to Weaponize the Monsters if things go according to plan. The goal is to be fast and wide here.
- Removal: Fire Prophecy, Blood Curdle, Dead Weight, Mutual Destruction, and Rumbling Rockslide, ordered from best to worst. We value early, cheap interaction highly, although Blood Curdle gets a bump because granting a menace counter reduces our Tentative Connection cost by three colorless. Turns where you can steal twice and still have mana left up to sacrifice feel like you’re the son of Omni-Man: Invincible.
Speaking of menace, the cost reduction due to the mechanic enables the most bonkers of starts. Pick it for Grimdancer and Ferocious Tigorilla nearly every time. Menace makes Frillscale Mentor a much stronger playable. It gets me excited for my first Call of the Death-Dweller. The jury is still out on Sonorous Howlbonder, as I’ve yet to cast one and the available data is relatively neutral.
Finding the Express Checkout Lane
Ikoria has been hard to get a grasp on precisely what the bots are going to leave you. Broadly, it feels like there are fewer playables in these packs compared to Strixhaven. The bots are required to take something viable, which can leave us in a bind.
When it comes to our bread and butter, here are the cards that ALSA numbers show the bots likely favor Tentative Connection over:
The key is to use this data to your advantage. For example, If you feel like there’s a red-drafting bot in your pod, it’s risky to pass a Tentative Connection plus a Heightened Reflexes, the latter of which the bots treat like a dollar that’s ripped in half. Of course, if the bot is in Izzet Spells, there are approximately fifteen blue commons it’d prefer over Tentative Connection, so keep that in mind.
A Legit Snack
With an ATA of 3.41, you windmill slam any Bastion of Remembrance you see. In this format, it essentially serves as an emblem of Zulaport Cutthroat. Being able to weaponize a monster for three to the face (or five with a Serrated Scorpion while gaining three life) creates a clock that, as I imagine for Big Ben, it’s hard for the opponent to turn back.
Eating Other People’s Lunch
Cycling is the first deck I think of when it comes to Ikoria Draft, as the twelve-land Zenith Flare decks made the early days as much fun as a cold bowl of soup. As the bots stand currently, I think it’s a mistake to force it, as they’re overdrafting everything, including the one-mana cyclers that help you churn quickly. We’re well-positioned to beat them, as we have early ways to answer their most significant threats (Flourishing Fox, Valiant Rescuer) while presenting a clock before we get Flared out.
We’re also a little too fast for the mutate piles running around, as devoting all of their resources to creating one monster plays directly into our hands. Don’t be afraid to use removal on their early mutate targets as a way to slow down their plan. Everything gets more expensive and less fun when it’s not mutating, like a reverse Chernobyl.
Orzhov Humans represents a real threat, as they’re not easily steamrolled, and possible targets for Tentative Connection are weaker than an SWV single. If I can’t keep a Bushmeat Poacher alive, I’m nervous.
From My Shopping Lists
These decks went 7-1 while I soft-forced Rakdos Sacrifice (much like I soft-force “I Think You Should Leave” when we’re not sure what to put on TV) for three straight drafts. One big thing I’ll point out is that there’s one rare (Crystalline Giant) among these lists, showing the power of what this deck can do.
This is what I want this deck to look like every draft: a solid mix of early plays, bulk stealing, and redundancy with my sacrifice outlets.
Don’t panic if you wind up in an aggro deck that’s lighter on Tentative Connections. I still managed to get value from the Poachers with a bevy of fodder and a Bastion for inevitability.
Two Whisper Squads is not a squad. It feels bad coming up short on early plays, but this deck got in for loads of damage with menacing threats and enough removal to keep them connecting.
Dinner Is Served
If you’re new to Draft and looking for something linear, aggressive, and forgiving to play, Rakdos Sacrifice is your veritable grocery cart with a twin-engine. Without an expected update to the bots, you should be able to farm some serious ladder improvement. It took me a morning to go from #986 to #31, so steal some games while you still can.
Until then, I’ll see you in the self-checkout area.