Draft Like a Vorthos

Posted in My Favorite Flavor on August 18, 2015

By Chas Andres

Chas Andres is a freelance writer and MFA student living in Wilmington, North Carolina. When he's not at his keyboard dreaming up stories, you can find him playing with his cats, listening to records, or building yet another Magic deck.

Hello! My name is Chas, and I'm a draftaholic.

Draft combines the fun of deck building with the excitement of unwrapping presents on Christmas morning. There's nothing better than tearing open your first booster, riffling to the back, and seeing a planeswalker waiting for you. Not only do you get an exciting new card for your collection, you've just secured yourself a powerful advantage for the rest of the evening.

In Draft, it can be difficult to reconcile my desire to win with my love of flavor. Drafting an excellent deck often means prioritizing removal spells and cheap creatures over splashier cards. You're only going to see so many powerful cards in your three booster packs, too, so passing a powerful Sultai card like Murderous Cut just because it doesn't fit the flavor of your Mardu deck is a great way to end up in the loser's bracket.

That said, Booster Draft can be a great way to experience the full flavor of a Magic set. When I build a Constructed deck, I often find myself focusing on splashy rares at the expense of less powerful but still very flavorful commons and uncommons. This focus on function over form can lead me to miss out on some of each set's most well-thought-out cards.

Take Faerie Miscreant, for example. It's probably not a card I'd consider building a deck around, but Faerie Miscreant's art, flavor text, and game mechanics all come together to make it one of the most evocative cards in Origins. If you want to play cards like this, Booster Draft is the way to go.

I'm not going to lie: Drafting a flavorful deck that is capable of winning your pod is a difficult task. I generally only prioritize flavor over functionality when I'm drafting among friends or on days when I know I'll be okay with just a couple of victories as long as I get to see my deck do something really cool. It's such a worthwhile experience when done right, though, that I thought I'd share it with you this week. Want to draft like a Vorthos? Here's how.

Creating a Draft Persona

I like going into the first pack as a blank slate—no preconceptions, no color preferences, no plan whatsoever. Then, I use one of my first three picks (and ideally my very first) to create a draft persona. If I open Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh, for example, I might imagine myself as a pyromancer with friends in high places. If I open Terra Stomper, perhaps I'm a beastmaster on Zendikar. Duneblast? I could be a powerful Abzan general with nothing to lose.

Creating a draft persona is important because it allows me to justify picks that might otherwise seem off-flavor. Once I'm in my persona, I look at each pack as though it is a selection of doorways that are open to me—spells and creatures that I have the choice of adding to my arsenal. Obviously I am going to try and fill my deck with the sorts of cards that my persona would have a natural affinity toward—it's nearly impossible for a fire mage to pass Lightning Strike—but there's nothing stopping me from using the enemy's weapons against them if I have the option to do so. There probably aren't many Treasure Cruises on the Temur frontier, but if I can get a Sultai traitor to take me on one of his golden boat rides, why not go along?

Flexibility is usually a good thing when drafting, but you can't afford too many wasted picks when you're putting flavor above playability. Switching personas after five or six picks puts you very far behind, so I don't recommend it. My best persona drafts have involved staying the course, even when it looked like I was fighting for an archetype early in pack one.

Lastly, I suggest bringing a large selection of flavorful basic lands from home. You might not know what archetype you'll be drafting ahead of time, but you'll probably know what boosters you'll be opening. Having a good selection of lands from the latest few sets is a safe bet.

With these principles in mind, I fired up a Magic Origins draft on Magic Online so that I could give you an example of a persona-based draft. Here's what happened:

The Draft

There's no point in showing you a full walk-through of the draft. Most of the picks were fairly obvious, and I don't want to bore you. I'm going to talk a little bit about the development of my persona during the first few picks, and then I'm going to fast-forward to some of the more difficult decisions.

Pack 1, Pick 1:

Infinite Obliteration, Anchor to the Æther, Blessed Spirits, Skaab Goliath, Ampryn Tactician, Deadbridge Shaman, Elvish Visionary, Guardian Automaton, Healing Hands, Pharika's Disciple, Screeching Skaab, Smash to Smithereens, Wild Instincts, Infernal Scarring, Plains

Origins is a difficult set for this type of draft, because there are ten different planes represented. It's impossible to limit my deck only to cards from a single plane, so I won't bother trying. That's okay—the basic premise of Magic is that you are a Planeswalker, so the same can go for your draft persona. Even if you are a champion of Bant, what's to say you haven't picked up a trick or two from the elves of Lorwyn during your travels?

At any rate, the two most interesting cards to me in this pack are Blessed Spirits and Skaab Goliath. Blessed Spirits is powerful, evocative, and fun to build around. It's also really heartbreaking. I briefly thought about trying to build a deck where I tried to avoid having any creatures go to the graveyard in an attempt to avoid any more needless death. I'd only attempt to beat my opponent via a very large Blessed Spirits so that they'd have to think long and hard about what they did. Those poor kids! I didn't think I could make that strategy work in a draft, though, and I mentally filed it away for a future Constructed deck.

Instead, I decided to make a giant monster out of a pile of smaller monsters. Let the mad science begin!

My pick: Skaab Goliath.

Pack 1, Pick 2:

Hydrolash, Necromantic Summons, Turn to Frog, Akroan Jailer, Catacomb Slug, Cleric of the Forward Order, Lightning Javelin, Scrapskin Drake, Send to Sleep, Titanic Growth, Undead Servant, Vine Snare, Yoked Ox, Mountain

This was an easy choice for me, as Necromantic Summons is a great addition to this deck from both a flavor and a gameplay perspective. Both Necromantic Summons and Skaab Goliath want a bunch of creatures in the graveyard, and I'm more than happy to oblige.

At this point, I knew that my draft persona wasn't just interested in creating life from unlife—he wanted to bring back the dead as well. Igor, fetch me a brain!

My pick: Necromantic Summons

Pack 1, Pic 3:

Gnarlroot Trapper, Murder Investigation, Tormented Thoughts, Bonded Construct, Calculated Dismissal, Dragon Fodder, Grasp of the Hieromancer, Heavy Infantry, Negate, Nightsnare, Shambling Ghoul, Yeva's Forcemage, Plains

Excellent—what's a necromancer without a ghoul or three to hold off his enemies while he attempts to execute his ultimate plan?

At this point, my draft persona was pretty well established. I was a stitcher with black and blue magic, and I was going to be focusing on summoning the undead with an emphasis on filling my own graveyard.

My pick: Shambling Ghoul

The rest of the pack was fairly uneventful. I ended up with another Shambling Ghoul, a Screeching Skaab, a Scrapskin Drake, and a Read the Bones. Catacomb Slug joined the party—those are pretty common in the crypts I frequent, so it makes sense I'd try to tame one. I also picked up a copy of Turn to Frog, because what's a well-traveled necromancer without a few transfiguration tricks up his sleeve?

My pile also ended up with a few Vampire-related cards, highlighted by Consecrated by Blood and Malakir Cullblade. They didn't quite mesh with the flavor of the rest of the deck, but I figured I'd run them if I had to. After all, my lab had enough extra blood lying around to establish an uneasy alliance with a handful of Vampires.

My rare in pack two was Nissa's Revelation. That would have been a great story moment to build around, but my stitcher persona could easily ignore it. My real choice was between Claustrophobia and Unholy Hunger. It didn't take me long to pick—Unholy Hunger is powerful, but burying them alive is exactly how the pilot of this deck would deal with problematic creatures.

My second pick in pack two left me with a choice of Alhammarret, High Arbiter or Reave Soul. While Alhammarret isn't the picture of neutrality that Jace thought he was during his time with the Sphinx, he's much too aloof to help a lowly necromancer like me. I almost clicked on the Reave Soul, but then I paused. How much fun would it be to reanimate Alhammarret? I pictured the noble Sphinx, his body beginning to rot, his mind fighting against my mental tethers as I forced him into battle. Smiling, I added Jace's mentor to my deck.

The rest of the pack wasn't great for me, but I did manage to get another Skaab Goliath along with a few other flavorful cards like Bone to Ash, Returned Centaur, and Macabre Waltz. I also got a Revenant—not a very good creature in a deck that wanted to remove creature cards from the graveyard for Skaab Goliath, but I couldn't pass up on its cool art and flavor text.

In the end, this was my deck:

Skaab Attack

One of the biggest benefits of pulling off a flavor-based draft is that your cards tend to play really well together. In Game 1, I was able to chain an early Screeching Skaab into a midgame Macabre Waltz that allowed me to trade off with my opponents' army until Skaab Goliath could get online. I took Game 3 (and the match) with a looped Fleshbag Marauder, Necromantic Summons on Alhammarret, High Arbiter, and a well-timed Dark Dabbling.

Unfortunately, the deck had too many subpar cards to take me any further. I lost Round 2 to a well-tuned red-white brew that took advantage of renown to establish an early lead that it never relinquished. There weren't enough Bone to Ashes in the world to stop that deck, and after just eleven minutes, I found myself staring at my empty desktop once more. I had a blast in that first round, though, and I can't wait to see what persona I come up with next time I draft.

Do you have a fun Draft-related Vorthos story? Email me! I'm also taking article suggestions, so if you have an idea for a flavor-based subject you'd like me to write or a format you'd like me to explore, let me know!

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