When we go to the casino, my fiancee and I split ways. Sam heads to the blackjack table, where she knows every fraction of a percentage point she can take off the house. Every play is dictated by this rigorous devotion to The Math; every play is preordained. The only thing left to know is who gets the cards: her or the dealer.
I plop down in front of the Wheel of Fortune slot machine, mash the max bet button while drinking tequila and soda, and hope to get a spin so I can stand up and yell, much to the chagrin of my octogenarian neighbors, “Spin! The! Wheel!”
She usually pays for the buffet.
Theros Beyond Death is the penny slot of the Quick Draft world. There is no joy in drafting it against the bots. You wait for the lights of the next pack to flash on your screen, hoping you see the triple cherry of a Dream Trawler. You plug in another 750 gems. You spin again.
Say you luck out and hit a Dream Trawler. Not drawing it, according to 17Lands.com, puts your likelihood of winning at 43.1%. Top decking it moves your win rate to 69.4%. That’s better than Oko, Thief of Crowns or Koma, Cosmos Serpent by a few percentage points. Twice the rate of a Blot out the Sky. It’s the largest swing that 17Lands has recorded since the set was released.
Well, other than two other Theros Beyond Death cards: Ashiok, Nightmare Muse and Kiora Bests the Sea God, with Win Rate Improvement When Drawn (IWD) of 28.2% and 25.8% respectively.
These numbers reflect a universal truth: in a format with such a flat power level, you often have to Thoralf yourself into a deck that can support one of these massive bombs. You can also choose to lose to them, something I spent most of this afternoon (as I write this) doing after riding a 70.4% win rate for most of the format.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this unpleasantness, Sam Black’s breakdown is still quite germane. Instead of rehashing his scrupulous work, I’ll be tackling the unscrupulous ways we can trick the daft Quick Draft riff-raff: the bots.
Below are the cards you should absolutely expect to wheel in each archetype. When they don’t, that’s the equivalent of a character in a horror film talking about all the plans they have for tomorrow.
- Hero of the Games (ATA 9.23)
- Wrap in Flames (ATA 10.72)
Still the king of value (and not being creepy), feel confident in first-picking a Haktos the Unscarred, as this two-card mini-combo is almost guaranteed to wheel. First, load your deck up with Hero of the Games (and Hero of the Pride, not Winds). Then target them and key blockers with Wrap in Flames. An interesting note on the latter: only three out of 145 trophy decks are Wrapping it up thus far. I would attribute this to new drafters in the format rather than this being a solved deck, but like Nick Fury, keep an eye out to make sure it’s working.
- Portent of Betrayal (ATA 10.72)
- Skophos Warleader (ATA 9.17)
Early trophies are split here. Some are opting for a Hero / Flames package and capitalizing on black being deeper than I thought my fourteen-year-old poetry was. Others are taking advantage of Portent of Betrayal and an abundance of cheap sacrifice outlets like Lampad of Death’s Vigil and Skophos Warleader to close out games. The Akroan War (the only red card with an IWD of 10% or higher) and Woe Strider will pull you into a classic Rakdos Sacrifice deck, while Storm Herald and Nightmare Shepherd are happy bashing creatures into just about anything.
Gruul Four-Power Matters
- Wings of Hubris (ATA 10.54)
- Nyxborn Colossus (ATA 9.34)
- Setessan Training (ATA 6.61)
Cast Nessian Hornbeetle, reap the rewards. Wings of Hubris is critical when you’re playing either fragile threats (Loathsome Chimera) or easily chumped threats (Nyxborn Colossus). The 6/7 is a legit top-end for the deck, but don’t panic and take one early. An honorable mention here for Setessan Training, which I regularly see available at Pick 11 or later. The First Iroan Games or Nessian Boar can get you into this deck, but so can a sixth-pick Furious Rise. Sadly, it’s hard to pull together unless you can pull a Mark David Chapman and get an early Beetle.
Izzet Flash / Instants
- Sleep of the Dead (ATA 12.13)
- Starlit Mantle (ATA 8.47)
I call this The Swimming Pool because I ignore all the signs that the design team put in place. You will earn small advantages playing at instant speed, but this is an aggro deck that wins by curving out and recurring Sleep of the Dead to drive your opponents mad. Outside of Thryx, the Sudden Storm, I’m not even particularly concerned about having enough power to make this tick: it’s a numbers game. It has the third-lowest win rate, so make sure this lane is wide open. A good sign is seeing a Mischievous Chimera (ATA 6.17) Pick 8 or later.
- Pious Wayfarer (ATA 8.02)
- Starlit Mantle (ATA 8.47)
Our eighth-highest IWD rate in the set is Staggering Insight, at 12.6%. Your goal is to do something like cast Vexing Gull at the end of your opponent’s Turn 3, Insight it on your turn with a Starlit Mantle or Karametra’s Blessing to protect it, and then fly off into the sunset. Pious Wayfarer can help push more aggressive starts while earning you bonus damage (and lifelink) in the process. Archon of Sun’s Grace slots in perfectly here with an IWD of 18.8%. If you draft a Dream Trawler, ignore most of this and draft the largest, dumbest Crabs you can find. Soft forcing white is a real strategy, with these last two rares outperforming 86% of mythics.
- Deny the Divine (ATA 8.73)
- Cling to Dust (ATA 8.56)
You’re in this deck because you have drafted an Ashiok, Nightmare Muse and are too nervous to splash. Survive long enough to cast Ashiok, Nightmare Muse.
- Omen of the Hunt (ATA 8.51)
- Setessan Training (ATA 6.61)
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath feels silly to type out. Uro. It’s just Uro. And it’s not particularly great in Draft unless you run a Towering-Wave Mystic, a card that is terrible in Draft. Sure, you can Thirst for Meaning. It’s simply not enough.
Ideally, you’re playing Omen of the Hunt and fixing for your third or fourth color when ramping for Kiora Bests the Sea God isn’t an option. Eutropia the Twice-Favored seems busted but plays more like my hometown Nuggets: easily removed. If you go the training route, you want a Setessan Champion to make the deck hum.
- Skola Grovedancer (ATA 9.10)
- Pious Wayfarer (ATA 8.02)
Setessan Skirmasher was the two-drop I had pegged for this list. You know, with it having constellation in an Auras deck and all. Nope. Trophy decks were six times more likely to feature one or more Skola Grovedancers as an early enchantment trigger plus an extra point of toughness. Obviously, even better when you can get a Wayfarer on the battlefield first so it can do its best Kird Ape impression. Also, ignore that Pious ATA number: it’s only going that high because people value the card so highly, not because the bots know anything. It’s available later.
- Relentless Pursuit (ATA 9.00)
- Nexus Wardens (ATA 8.90)
Remember when all the talk was about not decking yourself with this one? Me too. It’s a real concern, but the format has definitely sped up to the point where I’d be more worried about taking a turn off to Voracious Typhon. Relentless Pursuit pulls double duty of finding you threats while dumping future threats in your graveyard. It’s a Build-Your-Own-Superfund-Site! Nexus Wardens are mediocre in this but can give you a defensive body, and more importantly, me a second card to highlight. Seeing anything Escape from the original Greek Freak Polukranos, Unchained to a Pharika’s Spawn has me thinking about how I always have enough sleeves for a digital 50 card deck.
Now that we’ve got a feel for what we’ll see, let me introduce yet another new segment:
*prepares my best Nelly voice*
AI AI Uh Oh (What’s The Bot Drafting Tonight?)
Pouring through draft logs, as is my boring wont, I come across some particularly baffling decisions that these computers make. Let’s look at this Pack 2, Pick 4 to set the stage:
I think our drafter made the correct decision by staying in red. Seriously, though, this is a slam-dunk pick. What will wheel, though?
Let’s take “every red card” for $1000, whoever is the Jeopardy! host-of-the-week. Okay, so how open can red be? Let’s test it out in Pack 3, Pick 2.
Love this pick. As easily as this could be mono-red, Boar is a beater at the top of your curve. So, again: what wheels?
I’m screaming. In what world is there a bot that wants a Mischievous Chimera over Iroas’s Blessing? Keep in mind that every single red card in Pack 2 wheeled. In a world in which one of these seats is Izzet and there were zero blue cards available.
This means one of these things is true:
- A bot picked Field of Ruin over three very playable cards in their color.
- A bot speculated on an archetype-specific uncommon enabler in Pack 3.
- A bot is playing a multicolor deck that needed Unknown Shores for fixing.
These are the things that keep me up at night. Wizards of the Coast (WotC), come get your bots. They’re drunk.
The Deck I Wish I Drafted
We have all been there in our draft careers. The deck? It’s not coming together.
We’ve started off with a goofy build-around rare, in this case, Enigmatic Incarnation. Only, we don’t draft anything that synergizes with it. We’re taking average includes, but for every archetype but the one we’re in. It’s the end of Pack 2 and we’re a constellation deck with a ton of escape creatures.
Then, Pack 3, Pick 1, we open The Bomb.
Do we actively pass the fixing (Traveler’s Amulet, Ilysian Caryatid, Unknown Shores) that might make it reasonable to attempt to cast it? You bet your sweet bippy.
Have a deck you think I wish I drafted? Tweet it at me: @fakejakebrowne.
Until next time, I’ll see you by the crab legs.