A First (And Second) Draft

Posted in Top Decks on September 26, 2013

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to Perilous Research, DailyMTG.com's exclusive Magic Online column. Last weekend, we had the opportunity to play in the Theros Prerelease. Magic OnlineTheros Prerelease events start October 4; the release of the first set in a new block is the perfect time to get back into serious Magic mode. Getting involved in Magic Online gives us the convenience of drafting whenever we please. Convenient drafting leads to frequent drafting, and frequent drafting leads to masterful drafting. Today, I'd like us to talk about the Limited lessons I've learned from my Prerelease events and the drafts my friends and I did with the prize packs.

At my midnight Prerelease event, I went to Gamer's Edge in Kearny, New Jersey, and chose the Path of Ambition. My Abhorrent Overlord did a serious amount of work. I opened up a healthy dose of reasonably strong white creatures and Heliod, God of the Sun. I played a number of great games, including one game where I was planning to deck my opponent who had one card left in his library, only to discover that it was a Bow of Nylea; my opponent used the Bow of Nylea to put his four best cards back on the bottom of his library and eventually grinded me out of the game. Despite that game, I was able to win all my matches to finish the finals at 7:15 a.m.

Abhorrent Overlord
Heliod, God of the Sun

I won enough packs that I was able to organize drafts with my friends early in the week. My first draft deck was very exciting. I first-picked Whip of Erebos and proceeded to find multiple copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Pharika's Mender, Nylea's Disciple, Commune with the Gods, and a host of efficient black and green creatures. I would use Commune with the Gods to make my graveyard nice and juicy while I looked for my Whip of Erebos. Once I had the Whip of Erebos or a pair of Pharika's Menders I was then able to grind my opponent out of the game, eventually draining him or her to death with Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

I was very excited about this deck; it seemed like it would dominate long games and I had a lot of creatures to trade with in the early turns. Then, in my first match, I found myself up against Wingsteed Rider. My opponent used his pump spells aggressively when it was clear I didn't have removal. I had all the ingredients to make my deck function properly, but I didn't have the time to make it worthwhile. I could have won if I had drawn Whip of Erebos or found it with Commune with the Gods to win a race, but I didn't get lucky.

Wingsteed Rider
Whip of Erebos

My plan worked beautifully in the following two rounds, but my opinion of the aggressive strategies was strongly affected by my first draft.

In my second draft, I was able to put together a green-blue deck with two copies of Sea God's Revenge and a lot of bestow. My first two opponents were heavily green and the three copies of Hunt the Hunter in my sideboard proved to be incredibly powerful, especially when coupled with Centaur Battlemaster. In my third match, my opponent had mana trouble in the third game and I was able to use a pair of Nimbus Naiads as Wind Drakes to quickly end the game.

Again, I learned a great deal about the format. It became clear that sideboarding would be a big part of Theros Limited. Cards that I previously overlooked became very strong in particular archetypes. The format seemed like a happy medium between Innistrad Limited, a format where virtually every card was playable in the right deck, and Zendikar Limited, an aggressively paced creature format where mana curves were graciously rewarded with match victories. Theros encourages players to curve out with creatures to keep up pressure; this process is less random thanks to the curve-filling power of bestow. At the same time, even the most obscure cards in Theros have a place in the right Limited deck. For example, Aqueous Form doesn't look like a card we want in most Limited decks, but grab a few Flamespeaker Adepts and Aqueous Form looks pretty insane, creating an unblockable 4-power body that grows with the right spells and finds cards to protect it—and it's hardly disrupting your tempo at one mana, which is not a bad deal at all.

Flamespeaker Adept
Aqueous Form

Let's talk about this whole ordeal with the Ordeals. Initially, I was unimpressed with these cards. I imagined playing them in other Limited formats and found myself being underwhelmed even in the formats with very little removal. However, after witnessing how strong these cards are with the heroic mechanic, my opinion has changed drastically. I have, on numerous occasions, seen Ordeal of Purphoros put two +1/+1 counters on a creature and Lightning Strike the opponent's blocker all on the same turn. Even a card like Ordeal of Heliod seems like it's a good sideboard option if you're racing another aggressive deck, which seems like it could come up reasonably often if you're playing the white heroic deck. The Ordeals are ideal in a deck with a lot of heroic triggers, especially the green heroic triggers that grant multiple +1/+1 counters to allow the Ordeals to trigger right away.

Read the Bones is my favorite common in Theros. I loved the card from the moment I saw it. Not only does it draw us more than one card (which is my favorite thing to do out of all the things that there are, behind swimming in the ccean with a dog and eating lobster), but it affords us the luxury of looking at the cards we might be drawing to decide whether they're worth the effort. If not, we can just put them on the bottom of our deck and spin the wheel with two fresh ones and be that much closer to finding our deck's most powerful cards. However, the most aggressive decks in this Limited format apply a lot of quick pressure, often in the air. It's hard to Read the Bones against a lot of decks if we don't have a lot of cheap creatures or removal to trade and stabilize quickly. My initial impression that I would be first-picking Read the Bones over even the most powerful uncommons is no longer the case. Sure, it's still a card that I'm going to be very happy with, but the removal in Theros is expensive enough that it isn't an automatic first-pick as I originally expected. That being said, if I'm playing red and already have a couple Magma Jets and Lightning Strikes, then I'll be windmill slamming this.

Read the Bones
Lightning Strike

Speaking of black-red, one of the best and easiest interactions to put together in the new Limited format is the combination of Baleful Eidolon and Spearpoint Oread. People often underestimate the weight of a first strike/deathtouch creature in Limited. This combination creates a creature that can freely attack whenever it wants to and hold down the fort against absurdly massive bodies, even if they might otherwise be able to trample over for lethal damage. Red has a lot of strong early removal and the black cards, especially Read the Bones, are particularly good at dominating a late game. I would expect black-ed decks to be very strong in early drafts.

Anvilwrought Raptor was great for me against non-red opponents. Whenever I played the card against red decks I found my opponent picking up easy two-for-ones with Wild Celebrants or some quick tempo with Spark Jolt. However, the first strike/flying body was great against the majority of my opponents, especially when it was suited up with Baleful Eidolon.

Anvilwrought Raptor
Baleful Eidolon

Vanquish the Foul may seem narrow and expensive at six mana, but the card has overperformed every time I've seen someone put it in the main deck. Most decks will be capable of producing very large bodies; the ability to get a massive Centaur Battlemaster off the table will often be the difference between victory and defeat.

Cards like Glare of Heresy or Hunt the Hunter can be picked up late; these cards become first-pick quality when playing against a little less than half of our opponents. Each sideboard card in Limited is powerful because we're only playing with forty cards, so we have a good chance of drawing one of these cards over the course of a full game. Try grabbing one or two of these cards with your later picks in a Theros draft this week; I'm confident you'll be impressed with their value in the right matchups.

Glare of Heresy
Hunt the Hunter

Sea God's Revenge looked strong from the get-go, but we can be confident that my Limited experience with the card being played proved it to be nothing short of amazing. The fact that we get to scry afterward to find a Griptide or Voyage's End to bounce the big creature our opponent replays to put our opponent in range for lethal damage makes the card especially ridiculous.

Cavern Lampad is a fine body that lets the slower black decks apply pressure when they've successfully stalled the board. I've really been impressed with the card's ability to kill my opponent out of nowhere, though. We can set up board states to make it seem like we're taking a defensive posture only to get our opponent for a ton of damage all at once thanks to the power of placing intimidate on a creature that doesn't match up in color with my opponent's guys.

Sea God's Revenge
Cavern Lampad

I mentioned Centaur Battlemaster earlier. I decided to take the card as a first-pick in the third pack of my second Theros draft. I was playing a green-blue deck and I already had a copy of Sea God's Revenge and at least two copies of Nimbus Naiad, Leafcrown Dryad, and Nylea's Emissary. I had seen heroic in action, but I couldn't imagine how quickly Centaur Battlemaster could end a game. I was easily sending an 8/8 flyer or 9/9 trampler into combat the turn after casting my Centaur Battlemaster every time. This card was well worth its weight. Time to Feed has been lackluster in decks without heroic triggers, but when you're packing multiple copies of green dudes that benefit from heroic—especially Centaur BattlemasterTime to Feed becomes an attractive card and warrants picking it up fairly early.

Centaur Battlemaster
Time to Feed

Mastering the forty-card formats greatly increases our malleability in Constructed. Many players like to focus on Constructed, but learning a Limited format and watching all the possible interactions unfold makes us see games of Magic on a deeper level. The most complex interactions between cards are more likely to unfold in a game of Limited where removal is scarce and games are combat-centric. We form habits when we only play Constructed—we learn the right sequence of plays in particular matchups and it becomes difficult to see the most complex sequence of plays. In Limited, we're constantly trying to deduce the contents of our opponents' hands based on how the game has gone thus far. For example, we can be reasonably sure that our opponent has Divine Verdict if he or she passes the turn with four mana open and a bunch of cards in hand when it looks like his or her mana base is developing well. By simply casting a creature and passing the turn, we gain a nice tempo advantage and strand the Divine Verdict in our opponent's hand. We can battle away whenever our opponent has less than four mana open, and play combat accordingly when our opponent has four mana up.

These lessons translate well to Constructed, where it's often easier to figure out our opponent's hand. Try paying close attention to what lands your opponent leaves untapped when casting his or her spells. We can often pinpoint a card like Selesnya Charm or Doom Blade and play accordingly. Let's say we have Obzedat, Ghost Council and Archangel of Thune in our hand when playing the black-green-white mirror in post-Theros Standard, our opponent has been particularly careful to leave Temple Garden off to the side as he or she casts a Loxodon Smiter. In this spot, we should cast our Archangel of Thune. Sure, Archangel of Thune is susceptible to a lot more removal, but we have to figure that our opponent is more likely to be packing a Selesnya Charm when he or she has handled mana in such a way. We can wait to cast Obzedat, Ghost Council until we draw a Thoughtseize or have the opportunity to bait out one of Selesnya Charm's other modes.

Selesnya Charm
Archangel of Thune

With less than two weeks until Theros is available on Magic Online, it's becoming clear that this Limited format will be fun and exciting. We should find our way to a game store this weekend to participate in the Theros Release events. After all, we need to be in fighting shape for the Magic OnlineTheros Prerelease next weekend!

Knowledge is power!

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