Feature: Journey to Nyx Booster Draft—A Developer’s Perspective

Posted in Event Coverage on May 17, 2014

By Nate Price

A longtime member of the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage staff, Nate Price now works making beautiful words for all of you lovely people as the community manager for organized play. When not covering events, he lords over the @MagicProTour Twitter account, ruling with an iron fist.

After a few months of settling into drafting Theros/Born of the Gods Limited, it's time for a change. Historically, the third set in the block has always thrown a curve-ball into the Limited environment. Dragon's Maze, for example, was the first set in the block to have all ten of the guilds simultaneously, which altered the draft patterns of the color combinations in the block. Journey into Nyx is no different, changing a lot of what we have taken as standard when drafting the previous two sets.

One of the hallmark mechanics of the block, bestow, underwent a significant change in Journey into Nyx. Bestow granted a lot of value, power, and speed to the Draft format that has been scaled back now that Journey into Nyx has joined the fray. Developer Ian Duke explained that this shift in bestow was one of many things that were intentionally built into the block to change things up.

"It was definitely a decision that was driven by the flavor of the set," Duke explained. "The bestow cards of Journey represent the pulling back of the gods' blessings. Originally, they were all downside, giving negative effects but not stats. That didn't end up being too popular with the testers, so Dave Humpherys stepped in and decided to keep the stats, just in case players wanted to enchant their own creatures.

Changing bestow like this is one of the efforts we made to take the format from a vertical one to a horizontal one. The first two sets had been all about making one big creature, building a monster and setting it loose. With Journey into Nyx, we really wanted the format to depart from that towards a more horizontal approach, where it's more a fight of armies than individual soldiers. Strive was a big step in that direction, allowing you to affect multiple creatures with one card."

Ajani's Presence
The strive mechanic was a way to push the Theros block draft format to go from vertical to horizontal. While bestow and auras make you care about one big creature, strive rewards you for having multiple smaller creatures instead.

In addition to strive, one more new mechanic has been introduced, and it potentially has an even bigger impact on the shape of the new Limited format: constellation. Constellation is an interesting "build around me" mechanic in the same vein as heroic. Just like heroic creatures had an ability to force players to reevaluate the strength of various cards on the fly, constellation drastically changes the value of any enchantment that comes past for the rest of the draft. Since constellation is a third-set mechanic, it will be seen in the first pack opened in a draft, affording players a reasonable shot at achieving a critical mass of enchantments to make a constellation deck work. It also works as a great supplementary mechanic for a non-enchantment based decks. Each of the constellation cards has an ability that is good when triggered once, very good when triggered twice, and incredible if you get to trigger it more than once. There are also a number of cards like Floodtide Serpent, Riptide Chimera, Triton Cavalry, and Griffin Dreamfinder that allow multiple uses out of one enchantment, making constellation even more powerful.

Unfortunately, the strength of many of the enchantments in Theros poses a problem for decks trying to actually put together a coherent constellation deck.

"During testing, we noticed that it could occasionally be a little difficult for constellation decks to get the number of enchantments they needed to make a good themed deck," Duke explained. "The major contributor to this problem was the strength of the bestow creatures in Theros and Born of the Gods. They're generally so good that decks aren't going to be passing them, regardless of whether or not they have an enchantment theme. To this end, the constellation cards are concentrated in white and black, and to a lesser extent green, which all have a large number of enchantments."

Underworld Coinsmith
Constellation remains a focal point in white and black, with a touch of green, through Journey into Nyx.

With the addition of multiple new mechanics, a twist on an old one, and a new horizontal strategy, it's safe to say that things are a bit different in this full-block format than they have been previously.

"This is definitely a slower format," Duke elaborated. "This should free up some more space for some different long-game plans. Cards like Sigiled Starfish or anything with a good activated ability tend to be stronger than they may appear at first because you'll get so many more activations over the course of a game. You also have to pay a lot more attention to the cards that make certain archetypes run. The best example of this is the heroic decks. Since strive has effectively replaced bestow for one-third of the draft, there is a higher premium on the heroic creatures themselves. With bestow creatures, they could just function as creatures in a pinch. Now that there are more single-shot spells to trigger heroic, you want to make sure that you have enough heroic creatures to trigger. Things like that should always be on your mind as you draft this format in the future."

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