Given how little time there is between the release of Dark Ascension and Pro Tour Dark Ascension in Honolulu, the world's top players will, by necessity, be playing with less practice than they would like to have—particularly in Limited.
But even though we don't know exactly what Draft decks are going to dominate this weekend, doesn't mean we don't have a clue of what to look for...
Rise of the Werewolves?
When Innistrad first hit the streets, Red-Green Werewolves seemed like it was poised to become one of the top Draft archetypes in the format. As people continued playing the format, though, it became clear that dedicated Werewolf decks just weren't good enough to cut it (barring exceptional circumstances).
But while many established archetypes are getting weaker, now that they have one fewer pack to pick up their signature cards, Red-Green Werewolves seems to be getting stronger.
I know they might not look like much, but Hinterland Hermit and Scorned Villager are actually going to be big boons for the deck—as Werewolf players will now be able to reliably fill out the early spots in their curves with Werewolves.
And while green-white and white-blue decks are going to get noticeably weaker—now that they have to make do with only two packs of Travel Preparations and Feeling of Dread—Red-Green Werewolf players finally have a signature flashback card they can take over games with: Wild Hunger.
As I mentioned last week, Wild Hunger allows you to steal wins seemingly out of nowhere, and makes it far more difficult for players to chump block their way out of tight jams. If you have a Krallenhorde Wantons, your opponent will no longer be able to gleefully shut it down for turn after turn by throwing little creatures like Doomed Traveler in front of it.
Will the release of Dark Ascension give Werewolves the tools they need to shine (in the moonlight, naturally)? Or will they continue to underwhelm?
Long-time fans of the column know that Green-Blue Mill Yourself is one of my favorite draft decks of all time.
Unfortunately for Brian David-Marshall, myself, and a whole host of other players who have come to love the deck with an undying passion, Dark Ascension just doesn't have the pieces that make the deck work.
That means you'll need to go an entire pack picking up nothing but creatures, Thought Scour (which, while helpful, is far from essential for the deck), and—if you're lucky—a Tracker's Instincts or two.
This will require people who want to draft Green-Blue Mill Yourself to draft on faith that the necessary pieces will be there in the second and third packs.
One potential benefit for would-be self-millers is that with one fewer pack of Mulches, Dream Twists, Gnaw to the Bones, and Spider Spawnings, players will be significantly less likely to even consider drafting Green-Blue Mill Yourself. If this happens, it will allow that one brave soul at the table who does decide to draft the deck to reap significant rewards by scooping up late Mulches and Boneyard Wurms.
While I doubt Green-Blue Mill Yourself will be one of the more popular archetypes at Pro Tour Dark Ascension, don't be at all surprised to see top players 3–0ing pods with the deck. When it comes together, the deck really is "that good."
The Biggest Loser
While blue was (arguably) the best color in Innistrad Limited, white was certainly the deepest.
With Chapel Geist, Avacynian Priest, and Bonds of Faith all at common in Innistrad, it was very easy to start off your draft with a first-pick-quality white card and continue filling your deck with top-notch white cards for the rest of the draft.
But white just doesn't have the same depth in Dark Ascension as it does in Innistrad.
Not only will you have to fill out your deck with one fewer pack of Chapel Geists, Bonds of Faiths, and Avacynian Priests, but you'll also have one-third as many chances to get the Travel Preparations and Feeling of Dreads that put green-white decks and white-blue decks (respectively) over the top of other archetypes.
White is still very good, but players can no longer draft white under the assumption that their deck will turn out strong even if they are sharing the color with their neighbors.
While it was previously an afterthought, Black-Red Vampires seems poised to becomes a very real contender in Dark Ascension Limited.
Fires of Undeath is on the short list of candidates for Best Common in Dark Ascension, and with good reason. Like Brimstone Volley, Fires of Undeath gives you a great way to finish off opponents and clear away early blockers. But unlike Brimstone Volley, Fires of Undeath actually allows you to pull ahead on cards, by killing two of your opponents' creatures.
While it is an uncommon, and thus not a card you can rely on opening or getting passed with any great degree of regularity, Stromkirk Captain is a card that can win Vampire players a lot of games. Bloodcrazed Neonate was previously a somewhat dopey creature that would often walk right into its own doom. But if it's attacking as a 3/2 first striker, suddenly it becomes a lot scarier and its life expectancy gets a lot longer.
Dedicated control decks were few and far between in Innistrad Limited—but now that aggressive white decks are losing some of the tools that made them both blisteringly fast and strikingly resilient, control decks might finally have the breathing room they need to become powerhouses.
That's right, blue players can now just as easily punish their opponents for casting spells, attacking, or not doing anything!
It's certainly still possible to swarm or otherwise overwhelm control decks before they get the pieces they need to take over the game, but expect players to have a lot more time to pull ahead with Bone to Ash, Farbog Boneflinger, splashed copies of Fires of Undeath, or even an army of just solid (and potentially defensive-minded) fliers like Silverclaw Griffin and the tricky Nephalia Seakite.
Of the previously fringe archetypes, Tokens seems to be in the best position to make waves in Honolulu this weekend. Gather the Townsfolk and the extremely powerful Lingering Souls are poised to become the cornerstones of successful Constructed—and Limited—archetypes.
Any player who ends the first pack with a Lingering Souls, a Gather the Townsfolk or two, and maybe even an Increasing Devotion, is likely to be on the lookout for Intangible Virtue during the Innistrad packs.
So while Tokens is not the kind of deck players can force, because it relies on several very specific cards you need to get in your Dark Ascension pack, if a player does get those token-generating cards (most of which happen to be quite good on their own) don't be at all surprised if that player ends the draft with an incredibly powerful dedicated Token deck.
Braaaaaaaains (another look at aggressive black decks)
Like Werewolves, Zombies looked like they would be one of the top tribes in Innistrad Limited. However, the brain-seeking tribe rotted away pretty quickly. Sure, players would occasionally return Diregraf Ghoul to their hands with Ghoulraiser—but it was very rare to find a dedicated Zombie deck that was scary for any reason other than the fact that it had a ton of removal spells.
While Zombies were mostly written off during Innistrad Limited, the introduction of Highborn Ghoul threatens to put aggressive black decks back on the map.
The fact that Highborn Ghoul costs will turn off all but the most dedicated black drafters—in turn making it easier for the people who really want to draft black to fill their decks with evasive two drops. Grab a couple of Highborn Ghouls in pack one, followed by some Vampire Interlopers in pack two, and suddenly you have the core for a pretty fearsome aggressive black deck.
Heck, even if your opponents find ways to kill your Highborn Ghouls, you should be able to get your evasive two-drops back without breaking much of a sweat thanks to cards like Ghoulraiser and Ghoulcaller's Chant.
Be sure to check back all weekend long to follow along with our live coverage of Pro Tour Dark Ascension in Honolulu!
This weekend, the best players in the world will be headed to sunny Honolulu to compete for their share of $233,500 and the right to call themselves a Pro Tour Champion.
We'll have live streaming video and text coverage all weekend long. So be sure to come back to DailyMTG.com on Friday, Saturday, and (most importantly) during the Top 8 on Sunday, to watch the best of the best show off their soon-to-be ubiquitous creations for Dark Ascension Standard, and their newest Draft strategies.