Before we get into actual Magic this week, I wanted to say thank you to all of you who took the time to give me feedback on the new draft video that we tried last week. We are treading new territory with the video, but the reception was great and I'm hoping to be able to do more of them for you. I'm always on the lookout for new ways to help you improve at this game, and I hope to add this type of video to our arsenal.
Okay, business time.
This weekend is the Pro Tour! That's right, Pro Tour Magic 2015 is taking place just one major city south of mine in Portland, Oregon. The formats are Standard and Magic 2015 Draft. I like to let my fellow columnists hash out what's going on in the 60-card realm while we concentrate on the important stuff: 40-card decks.
If you haven't had a chance to watch a Pro Tour before, it's quite a spectacle. From my position on the coverage team, I get to see it all unfold from beginning to end, and it's a special thing. The top players from all over the world converge on one city to battle it out for huge prizes and plenty of glory.
Draft is a huge part of being successful on the biggest stage, as there are three full rounds of it on both the first and second day of competition. Additionally, the first three rounds of the three-day event are booster draft. Players who have a rocky start in the draft can have a tough time recovering, effectively magnifying the importance of the Limited rounds.
If you make sure to tune in for the beginning of the broadcast, I'll not only be covering the draft matches themselves with Zac Hill, but we will also pick a pro player who we watch draft a deck live on the air. It's awesome.
Putting yourself in a draft pod at the Pro Tour is both entertaining and informational. (I like to pause the video before the pro player makes a pick so I can see how my picks would compare)
What can you expect from the players drafting at this early stage in the new format? Let's explore some of the big themes to look out for.
Since the earliest days of draft, bombs have been a focal point. A "bomb" is a card that is significantly more powerful than the average card in a set. They are usually proactive, and usually win you the game in short order. They are also the most commonly first-picked cards in draft. In Core Set Draft, the pros will be looking to find some bombs first and foremost.
I like to ask myself this question at the beginning of every new format: Is this a prince or a pauper format?
Brian David-Marshall came up with this concept as a way to describe a pattern that we had seen while talking about draft formats.
Some formats are driven by synergy. This means that any one card in a deck isn't as important as all of the individual cards working together. Lately, we have been given some pretty clear-cut examples of this. A heroic deck from Theros, an exalted deck from Magic 2013, and a populate deck from Return to Ravnica are all recent examples. These decks rely on a slew of similar-minded commons instead of one big, splashy bomb card. Hence, pauper.
Other formats are driven by overtly powerful single cards. Hence, princes. The kind of format where if you get one or two copies of a big powerful card, you are going to be very difficult to beat. As an example, I remember Magic 2011 had the full cycle of Titans, and they were very difficult to deal with.
It's always possible to build a good, synergistic deck. The question is just whether the format is built to do that, or if it's more of a mishmash of cards where you are trying to simply maximize power level of those cards individually.
So let's talk Magic 2015. Where does it fall on this scale? Admittedly, we don't know yet. We'll know a lot more after the Pro Tour, in fact. But my early inclination is that it's skewed toward the prince end of the scale.
While each color pair seems to have a nod toward a synergistic strategy, they seem to be more nudges than hard shoves. And boy are there some nice bombs in this set. Nothing quite on the level of the Titans I mentioned before, but some very strong cards nonetheless. When you combine this with the fact that the removal is not that great in this set, it makes me think prince, not pauper.
First, there are two colorless bombs that will get instantly first-picked by anyone who opens them:
I have read Scuttling Doom Engine about ten times trying to find the drawback. It's just all upside, and it's on a colorless card, which makes it particularly appealing in the early part of a draft and always-pickable in the late part. I predict this card will simply never get passed at any point in any of the drafts.
Soul of New Phyrexia is a great colorless card as well, with a nice (if pricey) activated ability to boot. Just a super-solid body for the colorless mana. It also will not get passed.
Speaking of the Soul cycle, here are the rest of them. These six-drops are not the bombiest bombs we have ever seen (those would probably be the Titans) but they are all worthy of a first pick.
Soul of Theros feels like the most powerful one, as it's virtually impossible to beat if you get to untap with it and it survives a turn. Heck, even if it doesn't survive a turn it can end the game. That's one powerful card.
Soul of Shandalar is a machine gun that makes short work of both the opponent and the opponent's creatures—all while beating down for a hefty 6 damage.
I think the worst of the cycle is Soul of Innistrad, but even that is a sweet 6/6 with deathtouch and a hefty card-advantage ability built in.
There are other bombs to mention, but I want to cover some of the other big-hitting picks the pros will be looking for when they crack that first pack.
There are only two gold cards in the set, and they are both mythic rare. But there are cards that act as gold cards, and they are all attractive early picks. I'm referring of course to the cycle of cards previewed in this very column:
These uncommons have proven as strong as I predicted them to be. Kird Chieftain and Nightfire Giant have been particularly impressive, but the other three have pulled their weight as well. Sunblade Elf is the one I haven't been able to leverage yet, but I figure I'm simply a Triplicate Spirits or two short of doing just that.
These cards put interesting strains on a mana base, but it's entirely possible to splash for their activated ability. My gut tells me that it's not worth it to splash a Kird Chieftain in a black-green deck, for example. But if I am playing black-red with a Chieftain or two, I would consider throwing a Forest and an Evolving Wilds in my deck for the activated ability.
We have already discussed the removal in the format at length in a previous article, but I should reiterate here that removal is still a high pick and will be as sought after as ever at the Pro Tour. It feels like most of the removal has a home somewhere—the key is figuring out the exact needs of your deck.
Red has the best removal suite available. Lightning Strike and Stoke the Flames deliver as you would think they would. Cone of Flame has been as good as advertised, consistently garnering two-for-ones and occasionally nabbing the Holy Grail: the three-for-one.
The removal in black is a bit more polarized, from Crippling Blight all the way up to Flesh to Dust and Covenant of Blood. Depending on your build, any and all of these could be playable. Blue has Encrust, Peel from Reality, and Into the Void to act as removal, with some of it doing an impressive impersonation. Green is generally lacking removal (like usual) but does have Hunt the Weak. White's removal is pretty good, with Devouring Light as the headliner. Oppressive Rays is being referred to as Unimpressive Rays in my local playgroup of late.
Even if M15 doesn't push us hard toward synergistic archetypes, that doesn't mean there aren't some around. Here are a few that have stood out in the early days of this Draft format.
From Day One, we could see that these two colors had some affinity for artifacts. Scrapyard Mongrel is the biggest payoff for this deck, as it asks so little of us but gives back so much. Aeronaut Tinkerer is a fine card, but doesn't offer nearly the punch that the Mongrel does. Depending on your build, you get access to Shrapnel Blast and Ensoul Artifact as risky but powerful spells as well.
The real question with this deck is how low on the artifact playability scale do you go? Bronze Sable has gained a lot of clout with me, as it's a reasonable two-drop artifact that turns on all of these spells while also being able to block Accursed Spirit and Krenko's Enforcer. Some of the clunky Equipment in the set may be playable in this deck, but are we willing to go all the way down to cards like Ornithopter just to make our Scrapyard Mongrels scary? Thus far, I haven't. Unless I had more Mongrels than I could reasonably expect to get in a draft, I would rather not dip that low.
I didn't really consider convoke a build-around-me mechanic at first, but now I think there is a real convoke deck to be had in this format. Siege Wurm and Triplicate Spirits (honorable mention to Will-Forged Golem) are the big payoffs for the convoke deck. You can get these big spells online very early with the help of Raise the Alarm, Selfless Cathar, Sunblade Elf, Kinsbaile Skirmisher, and the rest of the cheap white and green creatures.
Inspired Charge is also a nice addition to this deck, as it can act as an alternative win condition in case you don't draw your big convoke spells.
This is more of an in-deck synergy than a full-on archetype. But when we have tools like Heliod's Pilgrim and Brood Keeper at our disposal, you know there will be some Auras flying around the battlefield.
Inferno Fist has been the most impressive of the Auras thus far, but there are plenty of serviceable Auras in both colors. Once you get any Aura attached to the Brood Keeper, you get a mini-Dragon that is well worth a card. You have to be careful not to get two-for-oned when you cast it, but if you are, you'll be rewarded.
I do hope you'll join me and the rest of the coverage team as we bring you the final event of the Pro Tour season. The drafts are the beginning events on Friday and Saturday mornings, with the epic Top 8 being played out on Sunday.
Until next week!