Talk of our new Eldrazi overlords is dominating the post–Pro Tour chatter, but two formats got played there, and what's going on in Oath of the Gatewatch Limited is very interesting as well. Today I'm going to lay out what I see as the pillars of the format, and talk about some of the decks I like drafting as a result.
These are some general things to keep in mind while drafting. None of them are hard-and-fast rules, because a lot of the fun of Draft is adjusting on the fly and straying from guidelines like these, but knowing these assumptions should help guide your decisions.
This Is a Two-Color Format
Thanks to lands like Holdout Settlement, Crumbling Vestige, Evolving Wilds, and Unknown Shores, splashing a third color or the colorless theme (which is essentially another color) happens often, but the base of most decks is two colors. When you have a white card and a black card, taking a red card usually indicates that you are switching colors, not that you are going to draft Mardu.
Aggressive Decks Are Real
In Battle for Zendikar, aggressive decks were largely absent. Aside from the rare black-red devoid deck, you could expect to face midrange/ramp/control basically every round, and even the white-blue fliers deck wasn't about curving out so much as playing high-quality cards that cost four-plus mana. The addition of two packs of Oath has changed that, and there are several good aggro decks roaming around. Curve matters more, and you should be prepared to be attacked by two-drops much more frequently (often well-supported two-drops, as the support mechanic is a big part of this).
Board Stalls Happen More Often
This may seem like it contradicts the last point, but it doesn't. There are more aggro decks, but when aggro faces off against midrange/control, or midrange/control plays the mirror, the game often goes to board stalls that weren't seen in Battle. I suspect this has to do with fewer giant Eldrazi running around, though the addition of the cohort mechanic and cards like Blinding Drone, Prophet of Distortion, and Essence Depleter also has to contribute. Knowing that you need a plan when the board stalls is key, no matter which archetype you are drafting.
The Best Two Commons Kill Anything
Having the best commons be unconditional kill spells means that you can't rely on your seven-drops to close out games (another reason why the board stalls out). Boulder Salvo contributes as well, as does Blinding Drone, which means that every color save green has a premium removal spell with more reach than commons normally get. Green has Netcaster Spider, which has exactly as much reach as green commons normally get.
The best way I've found to approach this format is to go by color pair, so let's take a look at how some of these pairs work, starting with four of the better color pairs.
White-Black Allies represents one of the best color pairs in the format, if not the actual best. It's a powerful defensive deck that takes advantage of all the Ally/cohort synergies, and given its two colors, it has access to the two best common removal spells as well. You can draft a fantastic white-black deck without a single uncommon or rare, and that's a surprisingly large advantage as well (though there are plenty of great uncommons and rares for the deck, too).
The two removal spells are the clear best, followed by Ondu War Cleric and Vampire Envoy. The order on these two will fluctuate, but I prefer to start with War Cleric. The deck often lacks two-drops (hence the inclusion of Makindi Aeronaut on the list), and the cohort ability is more important than the 1 point of life gain from Envoy. Once you have some Clerics, Envoy becomes better, as you'd rather have a mix than all Clerics.
Zulaport Chainmage is surprisingly playable in this deck, though you don't by any means have to draft it highly. It's a good way to close out the game without attacking, and nobody else is likely to take it from you during the draft.
This deck can often splash a colorless theme, with Holdout Settlement and Unknown Shores being the best lands for that purpose. Essence Depleter is by far the best non-rare to include, as it fits the deck's theme perfectly.
I also like that this deck gets a ton of support in Battle for Zendikar, which is an advantage of drafting a deck that's a theme in both sets.
This deck, besides occasionally playing the unsung hero of the format (Bone Saw), combines cheap spells, good removal, and surge cards to assemble a tempo/control game that can easily outpace the opponent. Drafting this deck is a little trickier than most, as it can go in different directions depending on what cards you are seeing, but the top couple of commons don't shift.
Like white-black, the premium removal spells in each color are where I'd start, with the rest of the list changing based on your individual deck. As with any blue deck, the colorless theme is often part of your plan, and Cultivator Drone can move up in priority as a result. My favorite iteration of this deck is a blue-red-colorless controlling deck that uses high-quality removal to control the game and fliers plus finishers to close it out—but you can also draft a lower-curve version that uses cards such as Slip Through Space and Expedite to play early Jwar Isle Avengers and Goblin Freerunners.
It's worth noting that Jori En, Ruin Diver and Pyromancer's Assault really make this deck tick, and if you see these cards, you can consider a more surge-focused version. Jori En is a flat-out bomb, but you can often pick up Assault quite late.
Red-White Aggro is a simple archetype, but a very strong one. It combines the great removal present in both colors with a good curve, a combination that has been a Limited staple since Mirage. There's an Ally sub-theme as well, but you barely have to pay attention to that, as almost every creature is naturally an Ally. So if you have Allies with cohort, you will be able to activate them.
Once again, we start with removal. It may seem repetitive, but it's the best, and you won't see much of it past the first few picks. After that, it gets interesting. Zada's Commando is consistently excellent, and can even get damage in once the board has stalled. War Cleric is a little more defensive, but still great in the deck. The biggest thing to note here is that I have Akoum Flameseeker over Reality Hemorrhage. The looter ability on Flameseeker has really impressed me, and I think it's a better card for this deck than the burn. At the Pro Tour, my team planned on picking Reality Hemorrhage higher because we figured we could get Flameseeker later, but I do think the Flameseeker is better.
The rest of the deck just wants to fill out a curve, with all the three-drop Allies being fairly interchangeable and support cards like Shoulder to Shoulder and Expedition Raptor being a good way to punch through blockers.
The last of the four decks I want to cover today is Green-White Aggro. This archetype is basically red-white with a more aggressive bent, but with fewer removal spells. The goal here is to take advantage of support cards, and curve from one to four, with the four ideally being Saddleback Lagac.
Saddleback Lagac is one of the more underrated cards, and I got a pair of them fifth and sixth picks during the first Pro Tour draft. They prompted me to switch into green, and I was very happy with the results. If you curve into Lagac, you usually win, and if you think of it as 5/3-worth of stats, 2/2 of which has haste, it starts sounding very strong.
Like Red-White Aggro, this deck drafts to a curve, which will mean shuffling the pick order once you've identified holes in your curve. It has less removal, so it needs to start faster, though the multiple common support cards in each color mean that it can overrun blockers rather than killing them.
If you pick up a couple Stalking Drones, try and include colorless sources. Drone is key as a two-drop already, and once you can activate it, it becomes a huge threat.
Kitesail Scout is worth calling out specifically because it went from being quite bad in Battle to very good in the right Green-White Support deck. Once you have four or five support cards, I'd actively look for Scouts, and to a lesser degree Shadow Gliders. Supporting fliers is awesome, and starting your curve on one is great.
What About the Rest?
Every two-color pair is draftable, and don't let this dissuade you from trying out the others. This format has been a lot of fun so far, and I like that you aren't locked in very early at all. The colorless theme is also interesting to balance, and even though it fits naturally with blue, any color combination can also support it.
I hope you enjoyed this rare foray into Limited, and I'm sure you'll see more from me in the future!