In the controversial new HBO series Winning Time, new Lakers coach Jack McKinney notes that the way they’ve played basketball up until that point has been similar to classical music: players “hit the notes” at the perfect time, every time, in a way that feels both predictable and mundane. His version of basketball is jazz, with constant movement and players flying in every direction.
Today, I want to implore you to draft jazz, and I’m only kind of talking about Sizzling Soloist.
In Streets of New Capenna (SNC), we’ve been handed five tidy shards in the form of houses. You can draft them or try out two-color pairings with a light splash. Intrepid drafters will find success drafting all of them. What could go wrong when taking all of the best cards?
All the Fixin’s
With any set that focuses on shards, the design team at Wizards of the Coast (WotC) needs to make the decks feel approachable without handing them to you on a silver platter. This starts with your lands. I’d rather start with six cards than play a deck with awful mana in Limited, but they loaded SNC with duals you can cash in for cards later and a weird new take on Evolving Wilds I suspect people won’t take highly enough. Cycling Triomes at rare are a bonus, but like Ben Simmons, you shouldn’t rely on them.
We’re also #blessed with a cycle of Rogues (and one Cat Citizen, just to make it confusing) that we can exile for two mana to create a Triome until we decide to cast them. They’re underwhelming as bodies, yet essential to making sure we can cast what we need to without too many hiccups getting there. But, again, I expect people to commit to better cards in their chosen colors and hope to wheel them later, leaving them as solid value picks later in a draft.
Making Treasure out of Trash
Our base for the deck is Gruul, which has several cards that revolve around the world of Treasure generation. If the lands were the peanut butter and jelly, Treasure tokens are our bread that makes sure we don’t have sticky, disgusting hands.
Jewel Thief is a top common that several houses will fight over. Still, you’re okay with the consolation prize of Exhibition Magician, Prizefight, or Halo Scarab, in that order, at common. I’m also very high on Glittermonger (and definitely not Halo), as it has the defensive speed the deck can be lacking. Four toughness is a real butt in this set. Fortunately, this set looks to be slower than the blistering pace of recent Draft formats, so it’s not a huge concern of mine. If the format turns out to be very slow, I will love running a copy of Big Score to pitch extra lands or fixing to for sweet, sweet Treasures.
While I heaped praise on Sticky Fingers last week, I don’t think this deck is aggressive enough to cash in on its promise here. I’m similarly out on Gilded Pinions and Most Wanted that rely on us having an early battlefield presence. Red has a lot of damage-based removal we’re eager to play to stay in the game, so slots are more precious than a grandma’s figurine collection. Treasure generation needs to be incidental and on bodies for the most part.
Our two cards that care specifically about using these Treasure tokens for their own purposes are Stimulus Package and Professional Face-Breaker. The former feels like a trap unless you have consistent ways to get Treasure on the battlefield, like Black Market Tycoon. The latter is a stone-cold bomb in this deck, allowing you to refill your hand via the exile zone virtually. Either way, you won’t be stuck staring at a pile of Treasure tokens going, “Now what?” I’ll also note that Jinnie Fay, Jetmir’s Second is a bonkers way to turn unwanted future Treasures into real bodies, while Soul of Emancipation turns existing Treasures into ridiculous 3/3 flying Angels.
Getting Paid Off in a Mafia Set
Now that we can cast anything let’s look at our options. First, I’ll note that if we exclude hybrid mana, only 26% of the 76 rare and mythic spells have two or more pips of a single color in their casting costs. Of course, some of those cards are in our primary colors, but I’m not exactly thrilled with Structural Assault or Arcane Bombardment beyond Constructed. Still, there’s a lot to like about these numbers. Like Elon Musk on Twitter, we’re looking at very few limitations.
Broadly speaking, I find many of these rares fall into the category of “general good stuff” rather than “specialized to an archetype.” Sure, Giada, Font of Hope and Errant, Street Artist play best in decks dedicated to building around them, but I’m more excited to have access to every Charm and Ascendancy. Rares in five-color decks are like art: you know them when you see them.
We also have a pair of WUBRG cards in Courier’s Briefcase and Widespread Thieving. There are no handcuffs required to get the briefcase in my hand, as a 1/1 body does work in this set, given the absurd number of X/1s running around. I’m very excited about cashing it in for one mana in a pinch or three cards in the best-case scenario. Widespread Thieving feels like you’re cheating yourself by making one spell impossible to cast, given you need to also, you know, cast something else that turn and have a mana of every color still available. In a deck that’s 80% multicolor or that truly has no Treasure generation, I could see maybe getting some use out of it to make tokens. Still, overall, it feels like a trap.
Speaking of multicolor mattering, we have Scuttling Butler as a card I think most decks will actively avoid. Does it have a home in this deck? Possibly. Three colorless mana means we can play it even if we’re struggling to get our fixing going, while the one toughness scares me less when it’s double striking its way through our opponent’s defenses in the middle of the game. Paragon of Modernity also wants you to pump varieties of mana into it while flying in a highly evasive set. Keep an eye on them and don’t be scared to speculate on one late.
Drafting the Greedy Way
While I’m still waiting to do my first drafts of SNC, I suspect this is the strategy we’ll be seeing a lot in a month or so when people know what is good and how to abuse that knowledge. If you trust your gut, nothing is stopping you from trying it off the bat, though. There’s no better way to take advantage of other people’s evaluation errors than being able to take all the cards they’re wrong on.