Desirable Effects, Prohibitive Costs

Posted in Limited Information on July 18, 2012

By Steve Sadin

In some Draft formats, you will find obvious linear strategies to pursue. For example, in Scars of Mirrodin Limited, you could attempt to draft an infect deck or a metalcraft deck. And while there were certainly a lot of subtle interactions you could take advantage of when you were drafting those decks, you could go a long way toward drafting a successful deck by simply taking the best infect creature or artifact (respectively), out of most packs.

Arctic Aven | Art by Igor Kieryluk

Magic 2013 doesn't have many cards that explicitly push you toward a strategy. But that doesn't mean you can't draft a focused deck. Far from it.

However, the fact that Magic 2013 doesn't have many clear "draft around me" cards or mechanics means you're going to need to think on your feet throughout every draft.

If you first-pick an Arctic Aven (one of the strongest cards in the set) you're of course going to look to draft a white-blue deck—but what kind of a white-blue deck should you try to put together? Should you try to put together an aggressive deck full of evasion creatures? Or would you be better suited if you tried to construct a slower, more controlling deck with good defensive creatures?

Arctic Aven
Aven Squire

There's no single correct answer to that question, at least not until you've gotten a few more picks that point you definitively in one direction or the other. If you wind up grabbing a bunch of Aven Squires and Welkin Terns, you're probably going to want to continue to pick up similar cards as you draft an aggressive evasion deck. But if you instead wind up grabbing things like Griffin Protector, Fog Bank, Guardians of Akrasa, and Divination, it's likely you're going to end up with a fairly controlling deck.

And if you end up grabbing a Searing Spear, a Vampire Nighthawk, and a Murder in your next few picks, your first-pick Arctic Aven might never see the light of day as you ultimately wound up drafting a removal-heavy black-red deck.

Just Because a Card is Good, Doesn't Mean it's Necessarily Good in Your Deck

While a card like Arctic Aven is going to be a top-notch addition to any white-blue deck, and Murder is great in any heavy-black deck, not every card is going to be "good" for you regardless of context.

In the right deck, Mogg Flunkies is great. If you surround your Mogg Flunkies with cheap creatures like Goblin Arsonist and solid support cards like Goblin Battle Jester, you'll be able to hack away huge chunks of your opponent's life total before he or she plays anything of note. So even if your opponent has a bunch of top-notch rares, you'll be in a great position to kill your foe before he or she can cast any would-be game-breaking spells.

Krenko's Command | Art by Kari Kopinski

But if you're playing a deck that isn't built to take advantage of it, Mogg Flunkies can be a huge liability.

While it might only cost two mana, Mogg Flunkies is not the kind of card you should be looking to play if you're short on cheap creatures. If your deck is slow, you should instead gravitate toward cards like Krenko's Command, Goblin Arsonist, or even Torch Fiend, which can give you an early defensive presence even if you don't have any other inexpensive creatures in your hand.

Krenko's Command
Torch Fiend

Even if you have a creature to go with your Mogg Flunkies, as soon as that other creature dies your Mogg Flunkies will once again be left cheering along from the sidelines—waiting for you to cast another creature so your Flunkies can once again enter the fray.

Similarly, purely defensive creatures like Fog Bank and Kraken Hatchling (although Kraken Hatchling actually works quite well with Mogg Flunkies...) are extremely poor fits in beatdown decks since they don't do anything to help progress your plan.

A Better Fit

Cards like Searing Spear are good in any decks with Mountains in them, and other cards like Fog Bank only work in decks that need help filling a specific role. However, there are plenty of cards that, while usually playable, can range from being decent to great depending on what type of a deck you are playing, and what type of a job you expect the card in question to do.

Giant Scorpioncan reasonably fit into almost any deck, but it will generally do better work in a control deck that needs some good blockers than it will in an aggressive deck that's looking to punch through a bunch of damage early.

Searing Spear
Giant Scorpion

Then you have cards like Veilborn Ghoul, whose quality varies more based on the specific composition of your deck rather than the type of strategy you are executing. Veilborn Ghoul can act as a victory condition in removal-heavy control decks that just need a way to close out the game once they've successfully neutralized their opponent's strategy—or it can serve as a good recurrent threat for beatdown decks that wouldn't otherwise have much to do with their mana if the game goes long.

But if your aggressive deck has better high-end spells, or you know your control deck is going to have a fairly tough time stabilizing even before it tries to cast a five-mana creature that can't block, then Veilborn Ghoul might not be a good fit for you.

Don't Ignore the Cost!

On the surface, Jayemdae Tome looks like a card that could be put to good use in slow control decks. After all, an extra card a turn is a great way to pull ahead once you've stabilized...

However, you can't just stick Jayemdae Tome into an already slow deck and expect to draw a bunch of cards with it.

Divination | Art by Howard Lyon

Rather, Jayemdae Tome is only going to be effective in decks that are full of cheap spells. Your cheap spells will both give you the early presence necessary to play a card that requires an investment of sixteen mana before you get an effect better than the one Divination offers you for just three. They also give you the ability to both activate your Jayemdae Tome and play spells on the same turn.

Jayemdae Tome

If your deck is instead full of expensive spells, it's very unlikely you will get any positive effect out of your Jayemdae Tome, as you should already have an abundance of good things to do once you have four or more mana.

Reaction Speed

So you were fortunate enough to open up a Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis and get passed a Magmaquake, and now you want to put together a black-red control deck.


Now you just need to make sure you live long enough to cast your game-breaking spells.

Crippling Blight
Goblin Arsonist

That means you're going to need to snag some Goblin Arsonists, Crippling Blights, and Giant Scorpions to help you get through the early turns without getting overrun by your opponent's first wave of attackers.

So while Bladetusk Boar might be a "better card" than Giant Scorpion in aggressive decks that need a way to punch through damage, you shouldn't be afraid to take the Giant Scorpion because of how potent it can be on defense.

You have a good plan for the late game already, so why not draft and build your deck in such a way that you maximize your chances of getting the game to the point where you have a distinct advantage?

Don't Play Cards Just Because They're Cheap

While Goblin Arsonist and Kraken Hatchling are extremely good blockers for their cost (I could also see playing, or sideboarding in, War Falcon if you were desperate for another cheap blocker), and Tormented Soul is a nice evasive threat for decks that need a way to punch through damage, Warclamp Mastiff and Merfolk of the Pearl Trident just aren't good enough to main deck in anything but the most extreme circumstances.

Kraken Hatchling | Art by Jason Felix

Yes, they're cheap, and sure you might sideboard them in if your opponent plays five Torch Fiends against you in the first game because you just need some blockers, but under normal circumstances, your Merfolk of the Pearl Trident isn't going to be worth the card you're spending on it.

Kraken Hatchling
Merfolk of the Pearl Trident

If you draw it in your opening hand, you might be able to sneak in a couple of points of damage with your Merfolk of the Pearl Trident before your opponent plays a blocker—but it won't take long before your one-mana 1/1 is outclassed by every single card your opponent plays.

And if you don't have that Merfolk of the Pearl Trident in your opening hand, it will be even worse for you as you'll have an irrelevant card stuck in your deck just waiting to be drawn instead of something that would have a relevant impact on the game.

Don't Just Assume Things Will Go Your Way

So next time you sit down to do a draft, make sure you are just as vigilant about shoring up your deck's weaknesses as you are about playing to its strengths. Just because you want your games to play out a certain way doesn't mean they will. However, if you're mindful what your deck is actually good at doing, rather than obsessing over what you want to happen, then you should do pretty well for yourself.

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