Making a Splash

Posted in Beyond the Basics on April 26, 2017

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

To splash, or not to splash in your Draft deck? That is the question.

This is a question that can topple 40-card empires, cause massive deck-building consternation, and be the thin line between victory and defeat.

I've reaped the benefits of splashing many times. I've also definitely splashed when I shouldn't have, and errantly left a splash out when I should have put it in. I'd guess that, at some point or another, the same may have been true for you, loyal reader.

Splashing is always so tempting—and it's important to know when to go for it or have enough discipline to stay the course.

So then, shall we take a look at the art of the splash today?

Okay, first, I think it's important to clarify what exactly a "splash" is when it comes to Limited gameplay.

It's simple: a splash is when you're touching just a smidge of a color to play a couple cards of that color. Generally, I'd say it's something like you're playing just one to three cards of that color. Usually, in a Limited deck, you'll be two colors, and when you splash, you splash your third. There are exceptions, sure—I've played my fair amount of four- or five-color crazy splashes—but that's a good way to think about it.

So, for example, you might have drafted green-blue, splashing red for some removal spells. Maybe your deck is something like 21 green and blue cards and two red cards. That's a splash.

If it was something more like eight green cards, eight blue cards, and six red cards, then I'd be more inclined to say you're a three-color deck and less of a splash. Generally, splashes are just for a couple cards. This is partially an issue of nomenclature, but it will also help make sure we're on the same page the whole way through.

As a rule of thumb, I recommend playing about three sources of a given color if I'm going to splash it. This can go up and down depending on the cards you're splashing. Sometimes it can be two if you're just splashing one card or you really need the colored mana elsewhere. But three is a good place to start.

So, if I was splashing two red cards, to be safe, I'd try and play at least three Mountains, two Mountains and an Evolving Wilds, or any combination of cards that gets me to three ways to find my red mana in a pinch. (And generally, I am reticent to splash in the first place without any sort of color fixing.)

Okay. So, now that we've established what a splash is, when should you do it? Why would you want to do it?

Let's cover five dos and don'ts when it comes to splashing.

1. Do Not Splash Cards You Want to Cast Early

Generally, you're going to be casting any given splash card later in the game rather than earlier. If you're only playing three Mountains for your red splash, then you not only have to draw the card you want to cast, but you also have to draw a Mountain to help you cast it in the first place!

Some cards fall into poor categories for splashing. For example, creatures you want to cast in the early game are poor choices to splash. By the time you can cast them, the game will likely be in a spot where splashing them wasn't worth it. Splashing mana fixing or acceleration is an easy trap to fall into when trying to build a three-color deck, but putting the fixing or acceleration into the color you need to fix for in the first place doesn't actually help you out much!

This isn't to say that you don't want to splash cards that are cheap to cast. There can be cheap cards that will still have a large impact. But often this means more along the lines of spells, such as removal, which can be excellent to splash. Something like Glory-Bound Initiate, however, loses a bit of its luster on turn ten.

And speaking of splashing removal . . .

2. Do Splash What Covers Your Weaknesses and Adds Power

A main goal of a splash should be to cover your deck's weaknesses. (Heeding the first point in mind, of course; you shouldn't generally go splashing cheap creatures even if early plays are your weakness.)

Most of the time, I would say that this boils down to removal or incredibly powerful "bomb" cards.

Removal spells are key to Limited gameplay. Your ability to kill off your opponent's creatures and nullify some of their strongest cards is going to be a big factor in most decks' ability to win or lose.

Splashing removal is also a pretty safe bet. When it comes to cards that are good in the long game (which is where your splashes generally come online), removal spells are great to have around. They're excellent in any kind of attrition battle and help ensure you have the last creature standing.

While not truly a "weakness," your deck can always use more powerful bomb rares or uncommons you may have opened. Splashing powerful cards can be worth it if the impact of the card is high enough and you have the means to do it.

Finally, another kind of card I tend to splash sometimes are big creatures. Sometimes, I'll be playing a slower deck that just needs a way to win. It doesn't need to be the most efficient way to win—but an extra copy of an expensive flier or huge ground creature can be a good way to close out the game.

Think about what your deck needs and see if your splashes can help cover it.

3. Do Not Ignore Colored Mana Requirements

So you have a Glorybringer, right? Big awesome Dragon, super powerful rare. You definitely want to splash that, right?

Not so fast.

It can be so tempting to try to get that powerful rare in there. However, there is a limit to the strain you can put on your mana base to try and accommodate for something. And generally, if you want to splash something that has two off-color mana symbols (such as 3RR if you're playing green-blue) in its mana cost, you're crossing the line.

There is a tremendous difference between having to find one of a certain color and having to find a second of that color. And unless your deck is really well equipped on mana fixing, this is a splash most often left on the sidelines.

Let's say you're playing three red sources as your baseline to cast Glorybringer. You will need to draw two of them plus Glorybringer over the course of the game to make it relevant. And you could add more sources, but it's important to keep in mind that the cost is much larger than just "Can I cast this Glorybringer or not?"—you are also impacting your mana base on the whole. What about the games where you draw a Mountain instead of the Island you need to cast most of the cards in your deck? Those are the ways splashing can start to crunch you.

If you're already splashing red, you could maybe start to think about finding a way to fit that Glorybringer in. But splashing just for it is likely to make your deck weaker on the whole, thanks to your destabilizing mana base.

Now, Amonkhet is a little different than normal in this respect because it does contain a way to pitch away your extra cards: cycling!

Archfiend makes a much better splash. If you ever get to the two black mana needed to cast it, that's great—but it's also not going to rot away in your hand since you can always cycle it. I'd be happy to play the Archfiend in my black-splash deck, whereas I'd be a lot more skeptical about the Glorybringer in a deck with a red splash.

But even then, I wouldn't splash just for the Archfiend. If I was already playing some black sources for removal and had access to the Archfiend, sure. But splashing just for a double-colored card is something I'd advise against.

4. Do Think About your Splashes During the Draft

If you get to the deck building portion of your draft and you're not sure if you can splash or not, then it might already be too late.

To try to make your splashes work, you really want to be actively thinking about them during the draft. If I picked a powerful rare, but I moved out of the colors to play it, I'll keep my eyes open for anything that may help me put it into my deck. For example, a dual land such as Sheltered Thicket could help make the red splash in my green-blue deck happen. Prioritizing Spring // Mind a little bit higher can be the difference between splashing or not.

While maybe there's another, stronger card in the pack than the mana fixing, if taking the fixing lets you play a couple awesome splash cards, then what you're really comparing is those awesome splash cards to the other card you could take here. And that's when you have to ask yourself: which would you choose?

5. Do Not Splash in Decks That Don't Want Splashes

Finally, think about your deck. Does it want that splash? Does it need that splash? Can it make use of that splash?

A typical example of something I'd warn against is splashing in an aggressive deck. Splashes are best if the game goes long, so unless you have something incredibly powerful or access to very good mana fixing, I generally would lean against splashing in your aggressive Limited deck. Plus, destabilizing your mana can be especially brutal to aggressive decks, since you need to hit your creatures on curve.

But it goes further than that. Sometimes, your deck is just in good shape without that splash you're considering. If you're taking out two good cards of another color to make room for two slightly better cards in a splash, you may just be hurting your mana base more than you're actually helping your deck.

If I'm thinking about splashing at the end of the draft, I'll always build two versions of my deck: one with the splash, and one without it. Then, compare them. How strong is the splash? Does your deck need the help? Looking at both versions side by side can help answer this question.

And keep in mind, you can always sideboard in and out of a splash! If you're playing against a quick beatdown deck and don't have the time to worry about mana problems, sideboard it out. If your game is going to go long and you want more strong threats, bring it in. Sideboarding in Limited is generally underused and a great place to help adjust your splash to match what your opponent is throwing at you.

Splash Attack

A good splash can let you play cards when you otherwise never would have. A bad one can cost you the draft. Hopefully, armed with this information, you can go out and make more informed splashing decisions.

When in doubt, I generally recommend not splashing. I've seen plenty of drafts derailed by mana destabilization of a splash a player was on the edge about. If your deck works fine without it, you can usually consider leaving it in the board.

On the other hand, if your mana base is really good with multiple pieces of mana fixing and the splash is nearly free, then I'd be a lot more willing to go for it. In the end, look at your deck and see what looks right for this particular draft.

And where to test this all out? Well, you're just in time to go draft some Amonkhet! With plenty of opportunities to draft this week, now is a good time to put this into practice. Go forth and splash!

Do you have any thoughts or feedback? I'd love to hear from you! Reaching me is easy: you can always find me on my Twitter, Tumblr, or, alternatively, by sending me an e-mail (in English, please) at BeyondBasicsMagic@gmail.com.

I'll be back next week with more Beyond the Basics. Enjoy drafting this week, and I'll talk with you again then!

Gavin
@GavinVerhey
GavInsight

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