San Diego Draft Watch

Posted in Limited Information on February 16, 2010

By Steve Sadin

Pro Tour–San Diego is this weekend, and while I unfortunately won't be attending, I'm looking forward to reading and watching the live coverage. This should be a pretty exciting event. It's the first Pro Tour of the year, and there are plenty of players who are going to be out for blood. That means that you are going to get to see tons of cool new Standard decks. Will Jace, the Mind Sculptor turn out to be all that and a bag of chips, as it's been made out to be? Will the new rare duals that turn into creatures have a huge impact? Will Abyssal Persecutor leave its mark? Will Jund continue to cascade its way to the top?

Just as importantly, this is going to be the first major Limited event to showcase Worldwake. That means that this weekend is going to do a lot to both preview and set the tone for how the set is going to be drafted over the next couple of months. Is the format going to be defined by Allies? Will monocolored decks waltz through the opposition? Will black be overdrafted? Will white beatdown decks beat everyone down?

We'll have to watch the coverage to find out for sure, but in the meantime, let's take a closer look at some of the things to watch for this weekend.

Fighting over Friends

Allies are significantly easier to find in Worldwake than they are in Zendikar. This could have a number of different effects. If people don't adjust their expectations, and continue drafting Allies in the same way that they did in triple Zendikar, then that will open the doors for some pretty powerful Ally decks. But if people start overdrafting Allies, that could be pretty devastating for everyone trying to grow their Oran Rief-Survivalists, Umara Raptors, and Hada Freeblades.

How do you think Ally strategies will perform in San Diego? Do you think they will be overdrafted and unremarkable, leaving a bunch of people with four to six Allies in their decks? Or do you think that this weekend's tournament will resemble the last time the Pro Tour visited San Diego, with tribal strategies dominating the event from start to finish?

Colors to Watch For

The most powerful colors to base Sealed and Draft decks around in Zendikar were black, red, and white. While Worldwake gives green a bit of a boost, it still isn't an ideal base color—that is, unless everyone around you feels the same way, in which case you might be in a prime position to take advantage of an underdrafted color.

If we draw one lesson from Sealed Deck play over the past months, it's that black has remained the most powerful color in Zendikar / Worldwake limited. But in Draft, unlike in Sealed, just because a color is relatively quite powerful does not mean that you need to play it. Once Zendikar Limited reached maturity, I felt that black was heavily overdrafted. I wound up having far more winning green decks than black decks because the color of the undead was being dipped into so heavily.

With black gaining a slightly larger relative advantage, do you think that black will be overdrafted this weekend, or will players be as afraid of trying to fight over black as I am afraid of watching scary movies? If people are afraid, that's going to leave the brave in a great position to clean up with all sorts of cheap creatures and removal spells.

Mono-red beatdown was my favorite deck early on in Zendikar. But it didn't take too long for it to catch on, and once that happened it became quite difficult to get the 21 or 22 decent red spells that you needed to make the deck work. After a while, I stopped drafting mono-red almost entirely.

Searing Blaze and Cunning Sparkmage are both boons to red, but all in all, it definitely became harder to support a mono-red deck with the release of Worldwake. And the very fact that it's harder to draft a mono-red deck might be a very good thing for potential mono-red drafters. If other players at the table aren't fighting over Spire Barrages, Molten Ravagers and Goblin Bushwhackers, then you can end up with an incredibly powerful red deck.

I'll admit that I don't usually look to see a particular Limited archetype do well at an event (unless I'm playing in that event, that is), but I'll make an exception for San Diego. I'd love to see mono-red decks perform well. Something about the archetype just brings a smile to my face.

While mono-red beatdown got worse as it caught on, base white beatdown got significantly better as Zendikar Limited reached maturity. I had initially strongly disliked white in Zendikar, it didn't seem like a great base color and it tended to be a pretty poor support color. When old school pro Ben Farkas told me that he was having a ton of success with white beatdown, I was skeptical. When he kept winning online with the deck, I became very intrigued.

Turns out, the deck was (is?) awesome. By hopping into fourth gear on white from the get-go, you get to put together a powerful, focused beatdown deck with very, very good mana. Base white beatdown is definitely a deck to watch this weekend.

Blue remains a support color, but it is a bit better suited for the role than it used to be. Even though blue is a bit better, it still seems unlikely to me that many people will find success with blue as their main color this weekend.

Now that we've gone over the colors, let's take a look at some specific cards to watch out for.

Satisfying Conditions

The greater density of Vampires in Worldwake than in Zendikar means that Feast of Blood is significantly more draftable than it used to be. You generally need at least six or seven vampires in your deck for Feast of Blood to be good. While you would have to get lucky to pick up even a couple of Vampires in a pack of Zendikar, with Quag Vampires, Ruthless Cullblade, and even the humble Pulse Tracker at common, not to mention Bloodhusk Ritualist at uncommon and many powerful rare Vampire creatures, you can pretty reliably expect to be able to pick up two or three Vampires in your Worldwake pack.

So if you have two Vampires when you see that Feast of Blood in the first pack, or three-four when you see it in the second pack, grab it! You're probably going to be able to make it work.

If black ends up being underdrafted in San Diego, Feast of Blood is likely to be bonkers. If black ends up being overdrafted, Feast of Blood is probably going to end up withering away in a lot of people's sideboards.

Dead Reckoning

I played in a Launch Party Draft at Head 2 Head Games in Irvington, NY the weekend before last. It was a nice store with a good atmosphere, the tournament ran smoothly, and there weren't any surprises. Except for one: Nobody seemed to like Dead Reckoning!

I remember looking at a third pick and debating between taking a Dead Reckoning and a Vastwood Animist for my black-green deck. After a bit of deliberation, I decided that I had to go with the Ally. Even though I feel that Vastwood Animist is a weaker card on its own, it gave my deck enough of a boost that I couldn't pass it up. Needless to say, I was very pleasantly surprised when the Dead Reckoning made its way back to me.

I think that Dead Reckoning is a top-notch card, but I'm starting to get the sense that a lot of people disagree with me. What do you think of Dead Reckoning?

Game Breakers

If you were playing way back during Mirrodin block, you probably already have a pretty good sense of how good Permafrost Trap is thanks to your experience with Blinding Beam. While Permafrost Trap isn't quite as good as the entwined tapper (mostly because it doesn't lock down all of your opponents tapped creatures), it's still really good.

Now, you might want to compare it to Sleep in Magic 2010, but Permafrost Trap is actually much better than Sleep was in context. While Sleep would be a preferable card in Zendikar / Worldwake to Permafrost Trap, in M10 games tended to be longer, more drawn-out affairs, where Sleep would occasionally be a game breaker but would just as often leave you feeling completely underwhelmed.

When you're racing as much as you are in Zendikar / Worldwake however, Permafrost Trap becomes exactly the kind of gamebreaker that you should be willing to jump through some hoops to get. To give you a sense of how to value Permafrost Trap, it's a bit better than Whiplash Trap in most decks, and it's probably worth first picking.

Iona's Judgment

In formats past, Iona's Judgment would have been a very solid removal spell. Sure it costs five and it's a sorcery, but being able to exile any creature or enchantment would have been more than worth that price. But in Zendikar / Zendikar / Worldwake Limited, is Iona's Judgment even worth playing? In such a fast format, is it worth it to spend five mana on a card that will frequently be used to remove something that cost considerably less?

The short answer is yes, it is playable, but no, it isn't great.

I think that Iona's Judgment is a reasonable card, but it isn't anything special. I think it's generally worth taking about third through sixth pick, but I would not like to have to take it any earlier than that, even if I were really short on removal.

You see, even though Iona's Judgment will usually be used to take care of Voyager Drakes, Vastwood Animists, Plated Geopedes and the like, that's still a fine use of a card. Not to mention that there will still be plenty of times where you are able to take out a Anowon, the Ruin Sage, an Avenger of Zendikar, or a Vapor Snare. Having that type of flexibility—and insurance—is more than worth going a little bit out of your way for.

Join the Ranks

Join the Ranks might be the most exciting Limited card in Worldwake. There are plenty of situations where it's completely and utterly ridiculous, triggering multiple Allies and giving you a couple of valuable extra creatures that might go on to supercharge other Allies such as Vastwood Animist, or Halimar Excavator, or ....

But then there are going to be plenty of times where it simply acts as a very good trick, one which is difficult, but possible to play around. If your opponent fails to play around Join the Ranks properly, his or her board position might suddenly deteriorate to next to nothing. But if your opponent plays in fear of a Join the Ranks that you don't have, you might be able to punch through for a bunch of extra damage (or save a bunch of damage) while you wait to draw the additional Allies that will allow you to completely dominate the game.

Note that Join the Ranks is the kind of card that you can really lure your opponent into falling victim to. If you set up a situation where it would be slightly profitable if you had Join the Ranks, and it's pretty clear that you would cast it if you had it, but you instead hold onto it, your opponent will be very unlikely to try to play around it again on the next turn.

You will almost surely see this type of sequence of plays in San Diego this weekend. As a reader at home, I know that I can look forward to some great moments—such as players getting lured into gigantic, devastating traps—being captured in the coverage.

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