Thankfully, we have a great way to take a huge knowledge chunk out of this problem. It's called the Pro Tour.
This weekend is Pro Tour Gatecrash, and I'll be in Montreal doing play-by-play coverage for the event with the rest of the coverage team.
The thing I'm most excited about? Limited, of course! We get to see the best Magic players in the world fight it out with the new cards. While the format is relatively new to the pros, many will have spent considerable time practicing Draft.
The great news for us is that we get to see what their conclusions are, live, during the coverage stream.
Let's take a look at some of the burning questions we have going into the weekend.
How will the guilds shake out? This is the big one. Having a set structured in guilds means that we have templates for many of the archetypes in Gatecrash already formed. What we don't know is the hierarchy in which they will order themselves. Let's explore the guilds and get to the tough questions for each one.
Where on the aggro/control spectrum does the Syndicate fall? Will extort be used as an aid for racing in an aggressive deck? Or will it be used as a win-condition in a deck designed to hide behind a wall of creatures?
Early indications are that the latter is more likely. While Orzhov is able to get in some early damage, the strategy shifts in the middle part of the game to a more defensive stance. This is where extort really shines. Removing the opponent's threats with good removal spells, putting up defensive creatures, and cashing in extort triggers all pay dividends in the middle part of the game.
Orzhov is one of the harder guilds to play. Deciding between an important extort trigger or a bigger creature is a tough strategic intersection that many players will confront. I predict that Orzhov will greatly reward the players with the most practice.
An issue I foresee with Orzhov is theft. Will Boros and Dimir pilfer the white and black cards for their own use? Boros welcomes a Syndic of Tithes or a Knight of Obligation, and Dimir wouldn't turn away a Basilica Screecher or a Syndicate Enforcer.
Boros would love to get the kind of reach available from a card like Syndic of Tithes, and Dimir has a great built-in synergy with cipher and extort.
If Orzhov can avoid larceny against its best cards, it should be a powerful part of the Draft metagame.
Earmarked early as the "Izzet" deck of the format, will Dimir show it's true colors in time for the Pro Tour?
Early in Return to Ravnica Draft, it wasn't clear what the Izzet were up to. Did they want to sit back and counter everything, then get a kill through burn spells? Were they an aggressive deck, or a control deck?
It took a while to figure out what worked. It turned out being aggressive early, and finishing with big spells like Teleportal and Blustersquall, was the best strategy. If you were the only Izzet drafter at the table, you could piece together a sweet deck.
Dimir is similar. With conflicting messages about the guild, it's hard to say exactly what the best strategy is. There is a mill subtheme present, but it supports the removal and beatdown plan put forth by most of the cards.
Cipher is also quite powerful, and shouldn't be overlooked this weekend.
Dimir could be under-drafted as a result of this confusion. Players who don't have a grasp on what Dimir is trying to do will simply avoid it. This leaves a tempting opening for players who have it figured out—assuming the strategy is worth playing at all.
With plenty of evasion, a good removal suite, and a lot of tricks up their sleeves, the Dimir could make a big splash at the Pro Tour.
Is a deck focused almost entirely on attacking enough to succeed at high-level Draft?
Through the use of the bloodrush ability and its massive beaters, Gruul can set up board states where blocking becomes horrible for its opponent. This is a solid foundation for a beatdown deck, but is it enough? Gruul lacks versatility, preferring to hit on one axis, and to hit that axis very hard.
Lacking any obvious card-draw or alternative strategies, Gruul will have to lean on some of its more powerful cards to generate card advantage.
With access to big creatures, efficient combat tricks, and good removal, Gruul has many of the tools to take its pilot to 3–0 in a Draft pod.
Boros is the clear aggressor in the format, but is it fast enough?
With the ability to kill quickly, it has the best matchup versus non-cohesive strategies. This makes Boros an early frontrunner for best strategy, as people tend to experiment with archetypes at the onset of a new draft format.
Boros carries the weight of responsibility on its shoulders. It will likely act as the format's enforcer, ensuring that no deck gets too greedy. Anyone fiddling around with clunky mana bases or extreme long-game strategies will be promptly punched in the mouth by the Boros Legion.
As the most obvious strategy of all the guilds, it may also be overdrafted at the Pro Tour tables. Players who didn't get tons of drafts in will likely gravitate toward the straightforward nature of Boros. This could create some interesting dynamics at the table as players jockey for position.
Simic is the biggest question mark for me going into Pro Tour Gatecrash. Where Boros and Gruul make their intentions known, Simic is less obvious.
Simic looks like a midrange draft strategy. Even though most Limited decks fall into this category, Simic seems especially middling. Requiring a lot of time and mana to set up big creatures has to have a tradeoff in other areas.
I have, however, seen the potential for powerful curve-outs with Simic.
I've also noticed that sometimes the deck has to play it's creatures in a non-mana-efficient manner just to maximize evolve triggers. This is the kind of thing that the Boros and Gruul decks just love to see.
Different forms of card draw and evasion give Simic access to powerful angles that other guilds don't have, though. They should be well-suited to a longer game, but with the potential for quick starts as well.
There are a lot of questions yet to be answered, and this weekend will provide many of them. One of the shortcomings of a guild-based set design is building decks free of the guilds can be difficult. If there isn't an incentive to stay on-guild during a draft, then it just becomes another gold set, where cards are mixed freely.
In Return to Ravnica, there were huge incentives to stay on-guild. Sticking with your guild gave you access to key gold cards for each guild, and also color fixing in the form of Keyrunes and Guildgates.
Will this be the case in Gatecrash?
With the addition of cards like Urban Evolution, Verdant Haven, Greenside Watcher, and—most importantly—Prophetic Prism, five-color decks might just be an option. With access to the best spells available, regardless of color, a green-based four- or five-color deck could be the best deck in the format.
If it is to be the best, it has to find a way to not lose to Boros while outlasting a cruel wave of extort triggers from Orzhov the next match. No small feat, but possible for sure.
Build Around Me
Ok, now this is where things get interesting. There are some awesome interactions that we may see on camera over the course of the Pro Tour. Only the bravest drafters would dare venture into this space, but the ones who do fight for glory, honor, and Johnny fame.
This seems like a pretty sweet way to win a game. Play your innocuous Biovisionary then at some point down the line, encode an evasive guy with Stolen Identity after copying the original Biovisionary. If your flier gets in for a hit, you are three-quarters (and one combat step) away from winning the game.
Magic players love mill. There is something about decking one's opponent that has such a great feel for many players. Is there a viable mill deck in Gatecrash Draft? With all of these tools available, it would seem so. I haven't played with or against a dedicated mill deck yet, but my guess is that someone will try it at the Pro Tour.
Whether or not it's successful is yet to be seen.
I'm curious what you think the best Guildmage and Charm will be at the Pro Tour. I won't have any scientific way to confirm this, but just based on evidence from the matches, I think we can make some conclusions about how well each performed.
I think the extreme versatility of Simic Charm will make it the big winner on the weekend. While Vendetta is still good as a part of Orzhov Charm, and Boros Charm has huge impact potential, I like the fact that Simic Charm is always good.
I have to confess I have yet to resolve a Sunhome Guildmage of my own. Although I have played against it, all I needed were my eyes and brain to see how powerful this card is.
It's not quite as one-dimensional as its sister Rix Maadi Guildmage, not quite as late-game-dominant as its other sister Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, but it hits that perfect middle-ground between the two for an exciting threat in Limited.
Which of these do you think will reign supreme at the Pro Tour? You can let me know via my Twitter link below, or even in the chat during the Pro Tour this weekend.
Some teams practice Draft a lot. I have heard of teams getting thirty-five drafts in before Day One of the Pro Tour. Others get as many drafts in as they can, but that number is often lower. The teams that practice Draft more than others often do so unintentionally.
Because it's more fun to draft a new set than it is to grind out post-sideboard matches of Constructed. Plus, those packs with all the new Constructed cards aren't going to open themselves...
Some players will find the answers to the right questions of the Draft landscape, and others will do their best to make it up on the spot. Either way, Pro Tour Gatecrash is going to answer many of our questions and provide some great excitement along the way.
See you from Montreal!