Professional Draft Strategies

Posted in Event Coverage

By Alex Shvartsman

Although pro players have different winning strategies for this tournament, most of them will agree on one thing - Invasion is one of the best individual-set draft formats existing in Magic.

Most players agree that blue, black, and red have more than a fair share of the good commons, making them slightly more powerful in Limited play than white or green. On the other hand, fewer players will usually go after those two colors at any given eight-player table, equalizing the playing field.

When drafting a deck, a good player does not simply try to pick up the best possible card from each booster - instead, he or she looks to build a cohesive deck, with a solid mana curve, certain amount of creatures, removal spells, and tricks. Here are some of the most popular draft archetypes in Invasion:

Black-Red Beatdown

This archetype concentrates on combining inexpensive creatures such as Shivan Zombie, Kavu Aggressor, and even Rogue Kavu with tons and tons of removal spells available in these colors. Two-casting cost creatures are key to this deck's success - as it wants to get several fast weenie creatures into play, and proceed to blow every blocker they play out of the way. Exotic Curse, Scorching Lava, Agonizing Demise, Zap, Cursed Flesh all make the cut.

Black-Blue Tempo Control

This strategy is similar to B/R in that it concentrates around inexpensive, efficient creatures and removal. Vodalian Zombie and Urborg Phantom are excellent for applying early pressure. This deck substitutes red removal for blue bounce - Repulse and Recoil slow down the opponent considerably, while allowing ground creatures to deal damage. This deck has better late-game with Duskwalker and Faerie Squadron, but B/R is slightly better in the early game.

U/W or U/W/b Control

The only truly controlling deck among the popular archetypes, this deck uses solid ground defense with creatures like Prison Barricade and Ardent Soldier to prevent everyone else's aggressive weenie creatures from getting through, then concentrates on winning in the air. Tappers such as Benalish Trapper and Stormscape Apprentice are important to this strategy. Black is often splashed for 1-2 direct removal spells, which this color combination mostly lacks. This deck relies heavily on flying creatures like Faerie Squadron and Tower Drake to win the game.

R/G Stun-Bears

Among the very aggressive decks dominating this list, Stun-Bears is the fastest. It is all about the "Bears" - 2/2 creatures for 2 mana. You've got Yavimaya Barbarian and Nomadic Elf as the creatures of choice. There are also Quirion Sentinel and Kavu Aggressor. Although this deck welcomes red removal, it will also rely on spells like Maniacal Rage, Stun, Explosive Growth and Aggressive Urge to punch through. This deck has virtually no late game, but it won't allow the game to last very long often enough for it to matter.

5-Color-Green

This deck uses green's many ways to generate mana - Harrow, Quirion Elves, Fertile Ground, even Quirion Trailblazer - to make sure it can cast every good spell it can get its hands on. Fact or Fiction? Any Dragon? Any removal spell? No problem, this deck can cast it. Its green creatures of choice are Pincer Spider, Nomadic Elves, and Kavu Climber.

G/W Metagame

This is truly a metagame strategy. In the format where so many players will play or splash red and black, this deck picks protection-from creatures highly. It will usually play a few Llanowar Knights as well as a few Acolytes. Armadillo Cloak on a pro-black creature is its favorite play. Personally, I do not think this strategy is quite as good as the others listed above, but a number of Pro Tour regulars will disagree.

Players learned to adapt to each other, and adjust their own strategies over the weekend. Brian Kibler was set on drafting green, figuring it for an underdrafted color. He did not realize just how many other people would do the same. "At my table, this guy picked Utopia Tree over Agonizing Demise," he complained. In an unusual twist, his table ended up having five green players and only a pair of black mages.

Menno Dolstra's experience was an almost exact opposite. "Dutch players love 5CG strategy, so I expected it to be heavily drafted. I learned that it is not appreciated quite as much by the players on the Pro Tour, and might be able to go after it now."

Eric Taylor seemed much happier after the first draft on Saturday than he was during Friday's drafts. "I just learned to avoid fighting with my neighbors. I like B/R, but so do they. Fine. Let them fight for it. I will just take these W/G/U cards and be happy."

Not all the players adjusted their strategy during the course of the weekend. Most have felt that the experience of their first two drafts changed little for them. Mike Pustilnik describes his own game plan: "I feel blue is the best color in the format, so I set out to draft blue decks - be it blue-black, or blue-white. So far I succeeded in drafting blue in all of my pods."

Nicolai Herzog does feel that playing on Day 2 is a bit different than playing on Day 1. "I think diplomacy will play a far higher role. When I am sitting next to other players I am familiar with, I am far more likely to cooperate with them during the draft - since I know that they will cooperate with me in turn. When I sit next to the guys I do not really know on day 1, they are far more likely to just steal my cards after I've been nice to them, so I do not try quite as hard."

Realizing the power of all the unorthodox cards is very important as well. Everyone knows that Agonizing Demise is a good card - but few players realize that Protective Sphere is a solid sideboard card. Herzog used it to win at least one match with his U/W deck, when he could not otherwise deal with an opponent's Vodalian Serpent for several turns in a row.

Players come armed with a variety of different strategies. It is a combination of solid drafting, diplomacy skills, play skill and, of course, luck that will determine the winners.

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