Taking Charge of Your Zendikar Draft Decisions

Posted in Limited Information on October 20, 2009

By Steve Sadin

Triple Zendikar draft is a very fast format, and it's usually better to be attacking than blocking. The abundant number of creatures with landfall, intimidate, high power, and low toughness can make it really easy to come out fast, and really difficult to block effectively.

While there are certainly opportunities to build an excellent defensive deck in Zendikar Limited, it is much easier to put together a powerful aggressive deck than it is to put together something that relies on getting into the late game.

Because the format lends itself so well to aggressive strategies, being able to cast your spells in a timely manner is of the utmost importance regardless of whether you're playing a fast deck or a relatively slow, defensive deck. However, just playing a lot of lands isn't enough to ensure that you will be able to cast your spells in a timely manner. To do that, you have to be very mindful of your color considerations ....

Drafting Monocolored Decks

While you're waiting to commit to your second color, you might notice that you're getting a ton of good cards in your primary color and you might feel tempted to stay the course and just draft a monocolored deck. While a lot has to go right for you to be able to draft a powerful monocolored deck, if things do come together, you can end up with something pretty spectacular.

The first great monocolored Zendikar draft deck that I saw was an unintentionally drafted mono-red deck that featured three Spire Barrages and three Zektar Shrine Expeditions. I say that it was unintentionally drafted because the player who drafted it literally didn't even realize that he was playing mono-red until he laid out his deck and noticed that he could get away with not playing the six green cards that he had thought were going to end up in his 40.

He wound up playing 19 lands because he didn't have enough red cards to fill out his deck. And while playing 19 lands really isn't a desirable thing to do, it's far from a bad thing in a deck with three Spire Barrages and two Zektar Shrine Expeditions.

A couple of hours, a bunch of burn spells, and a few wins later, and the 19-land mono-red deck had the best record in the draft.

Because of the high density of playable cards in Zendikar, you will somewhat frequently be able to play a monocolored deck, especially if no one else is interested in picking up the colored-mana-intensive cards in your color. But that doesn't mean you always should.

A lot has to go right for your monocolored deck to end up being very strong. Whereas only a little bit has to go right for your two-color deck to end up being very strong.

As it is, you should generally look to play two colors (or two colors with a splash). But if you find yourself with three Spire Barrages in your deck, by all means go for a deck with 17 or 18 Mountains!

Why Monocolored?

One of the big advantages to drafting a monocolored deck is that you never have issues fulfilling your color requirements.

Sure you can still get mana screwed or mana flooded, but you won't ever have a time where you are forced to mulligan a hand because you don't have the you need for your Kor Aeronaut—or, worse yet, keep a hand with a single Plains and Kor Aeronaut and be unable to cast it until turn seven because it took you that long to draw your second Plains.

If you are playing an aggressive deck, there's pretty much no worse feeling than having a two-drop in your hand and being unable to cast it because you don't have the necessary colored mana. With monocolored decks you will always have that second colored mana, and that alone can contribute to an extra win every twenty or so games.

Burning Up

Since the Prerelease I've forced mono-red a number of times, and it has worked out very well for me. However, the more success that I have with the deck amongst a group of players, the more difficult it becomes for me to successfully draft the deck.

Whenever I'm at a table that doesn't have anyone who is interested in drafting a heavy red deck, my deck will turn out incredibly well. But if I'm competing with another player, or (I shudder to think) multiple players for Spire Barrages, Molten Ravagers, and the like, then things can get a bit hairy.

I've backed off from trying to force mono-red until I feel like I've gotten strong enough signals to go into it in my first five or so picks. If it feels like red is open by then, a ton more red cards are going to find their way into my stack—even if that means taking things like Plated Geopede or Bladetusk Boar over otherwise more impressive Hideous Ends or Windrider Eels.

If you are going to draft a monocolored deck, red is certainly the most powerful option in Zendikar. The cheap creatures are plentiful, and Spire Barrages become absolutely ridiculous if you have 16+ Mountains.

Don't try to force mono-red, but if you realize it's open you should feel free to go for it. However, if you don't get any Spire Barrages, don't be afraid to dip into a second color.

Seeking Blood

Black has some of the best aggressive common creatures out there. Vampire Lacerator, Guul Draz Vampire, Surrakar Marauder, and Blood Seeker are all great ways to get your game started. Couple that with some of the best removal in the set in the form of Hideous End and Disfigure, and you have the ability to overwhelm your opponents pretty quickly.

After a few turns of thwapping your opponent with your one- and two-drops and clearing the way with your cheap removal, you might find yourself crashing in with a big hasty Crypt Ripper. With those types of cards and that large of a potential for strong openings, it would seem like black would lend itself particularly well to being drafted all by itself.

Only it doesn't.

The problem is that, outside of Vampire Nighthawk, Vampire Hexmage and Bloodghast, Gatekeeper of Malakir, Crypt Ripper, and Feast of Blood, there's really very little incentive to be mono-black. Sure, there are a handful of cheap black creatures that lend themselves well to decks with a lot of Swamps, but they are all uncommon or rare. And even then, the requirements aren't that intense.

Aside from Gatekeeper of Malakir (which you need a ton of black mana for), the card that asks the most of your Swamps is Feast of Blood. I wouldn't want to play Feast of Blood unless I had at least seven Vampires in my deck, and I'd prefer to have at least eight or nine.

You might be able to get away with playing Feast of Blood in a deck with only 6 vampires, but if you did they would have to be very innocuous ones that are unlikely to get targeted by removal or trade in combat.

But that isn't even a color requirement. That's just a tribal requirement—a tribal requirement that is almost as easy to fulfill in a two-color deck as it is in a monocolored deck.

If you find yourself with a couple of Crypt Rippers and a Gatekeeper of Malakir, definitely consider playing mono-black. But if a Burst Lightning, a Journey to Nowhere or a Windrider Eel present themselves to you in an otherwise weak pack, you shouldn't hesitate to jump on one of these very powerful cards with a light color requirement.

Even if you have heavy black requirements, strongly consider bringing in a light second color so long as you will still be able to play eleven or twelve sources of .

Feeling Blue

So much has to go right for your mono-blue deck to come together. And for what? To enable you to get some additional equity out of the otherwise marginal Merfolk Wayfinder?

There are not enough color requirements to require you to go mono-blue, and even if there were, Zendikar blue is filled with too many support cards to warrant playing without at least a light splash.

Stay away from mono-blue at all costs!

Green with Envy

I've actually had a decent amount of success with mono-green. As usual, green has plenty of good creatures at every point in the curve. And what it gives up in not having bounce or removal, it makes up for by having creatures that are larger than average and pump effects such as Vines of Vastwood and Primal Bellow that can be hugely impactful.

If you are drafting a lot of green, make sure that you have a good early curve. If you're just trying to deploy giant monsters without any removal or bounce to back them up, you're going to find yourself in a heap of trouble when your opponents come out fast or simply deploy a couple of evasion creatures.

Unless you have a bunch of Timbermaw Larvas and Primal Bellows, you should look to grab some good removal and or evasion creatures from a different color. You don't want to regularly find yourself in a game where your biggest creature(s) are getting chump blocked while a Bladetusk Boar or a Windrider Eel makes short work of you.

12-13 Forests are usually almost identical to 17 or 18. For that reason, be on the lookout for good cards of other colors, especially good removal spells or evasion creatures.

White Can Be All Right

In general your white decks will really want to play a second color. You will want that second color so you can have more removal, more tricks, and more plays that are relevant in the late game.

But if you play that second color you run a strong risk of not being able to cast your Kor Aeronauts, Kazandu Blademasters, or the like on turn two. And missing that two-drop can be an absolute death knell in a very aggressive deck.

Sure if you get enough Cliff Threaders or one drops + Kor Skyfishers, you won't need to play a ton of white, but if you don't get those specific early drops you are going to need a ton of Plains for your base white deck to function properly.

Zendikar white tends to make a poor choice for mono-color, a good base color, a pretty poor support color, and a good splash color. If you're playing white, you should be looking to play ten or more white sources, or six or fewer white sources, while actively avoiding decks where you will only be able to play seven or eight white sources.

Balancing Power and Consistency

One of the reasons why red is such a good choice to be played as a monocolored deck in Zendikar Limited is that it will typically gain access to more bombs than it would have if it was played alongside another color(s). That is because Spire Barrages go from being merely playable to being unbelievably powerful first picks. For other colors, you will often need to play a second color in order to get some more power into your deck, and that's perfectly all right.

Just be mindful about how much of an impact your picks are going to have on your mana base. It might just turn out that Disfigure is a better pick for your deck than Hideous End.

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