Deftly Drafting Dragons

Posted in Event Coverage on May 10, 2015

By Peter Rawlings

This weekend's tournament in Atlantic City marks the first Limited Grand Prix since Dragons of Tarkir came roaring into the format. Now that that the pros have had a few more weeks to explore how things have changed on Tarkir, they've been able to adjust their pick orders and color preferences in the wake of their intensive Pro Tour testing. I sat down with three of the top pros that were making a deep run into Day 2 to get their perspective on the Draft environment.

Andrew Cuneo said Blue-Red control was the deck to aim for, and often went under-drafted.

After an undefeated Saturday, No. 19 Andrew Cuneo stood at 11-1 following the conclusion of the first draft here on Day 2. While he ended up with a White-Green deck, his preferred archetype is Blue-Red Control, he said. “It's almost always open, and it's very good since you tend to get a bunch of rares late.” Cards like Volcanic Vision and, especially, Living Lore, aren't especially popular in other builds, but can be potent weapons in Blue-Red, he said. Lower rarity cards such as Seismic Rupture are also of first-pick quality for the deck, and most other archetypes don't place a high value on it, he said.

No. 3 Owen Turtenwald also expressed a fondness for Blue-Red Control, but Black-Red was the color combination he was most hoping to end up in (as he did in his first draft on Sunday). “I think black and red are the best colors by a lot,” he said. There has to be a lot of competition for black and red cards at the table to not end up with an at-least-solid Black-Red deck, he said.

One of the reasons Blue-Red is also a strong combination is that in Dragons of Tarkir the blue cards, while very deep, don't have as high an overall quality as some other colors, Turtenwald said. As a result, people tend not to take blue cards very early, allowing a player aggressively looking to draft the color to soak up a number of strong, late cards, he said.

Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas handily swept his first draft on Day 2 with a Blue-Black build. That archetype, along with Black-Red and Red-Green are the main color combinations he's most happy to find himself in.

“Red and black are the two best colors—they have the best removal and the best commons,” Scott-Vargas said. Common tricks and removal spells such as Flatten, Twin Bolt, Sarkhan's Rage, Tail Slash and Coat with Venom offer players drafting those colors a bevy of good options to choose from, he said. “Black-Red is so good because you can build either an aggressive dash deck, or a control deck with a lot of removal.”

When moving into Red-Green players should look to prioritize the large and ferocious green creatures, and removal spells that are able to capitalize on those, such as Tail Slash, Epic Confrontation and Hunt the Weak, said the Hall of Famer. But beware, because green is very poor in Fate Reforged so players should draft the archetype with the knowledge that they won't get much help for green in their last pack, he cautioned.

What combinations should players look to avoid? For Cuneo, the answer was Blue-Green. He, too, pointed to the weakness of green in Fate Reforged as a reason to avoid that particular archetype. Turtenwald was similarly down on green, naming Black-Green as his least favorite color pair. “While Epic Confrontation is great, all the cards after that are roughly equal and they're all on the level of about the fourth-best common in the other colors,” he said.

Green is the weakest color in the format, according to Owen Turtenwald, and Black-Green in particular is to be avoided.

“You can draft almost any color combination—it isn't a very polarized format,” said Scott-Vargas. “Since the Pro Tour, it's not as much been about ranking the color combinations as figuring out exactly how good each card is.” Still, he said he does not particularly care for Red-White, though he added that other players differ and like that combination, which offers incentives such as War Flare at common in the third pack.

What cards have been undervalued, or gone up in the pros' estimation since their Pro Tour testing? Cuneo immediately cited Tapestry of the Ages. The Dragons of Tarkir artifact is great because because “it's card advantage that you can play in any color combination,” he said. Ideally it would be supported by something like 11 or 12 noncreature spells, but for 6 mana in can always just cycle itself in a pinch when needed, he said.

Turtenwald named Tormenting Voice and Gurmag Angler as cards that occasionally went later than they should. The black common especially, while it may not be undervalued exactly, has gotten stronger since Dragons of Tarkir joined Fate Reforged, he said. With fewer delve spells in the format now, the Zombie Fish has less competition for the graveyard food that enables it to come down on the cheap.

Luis Scott-Vargas named Coat with Venom as the card that had most improved in his eyes since Brussels.

Coat with Venom is the card that has gone up the most in Scott-Vargas's estimation since the Pro Tour. “It's just so efficient: for a single mana it will trade for something worth much more than that,” he said. “It's also really good against Hunt the Weak and Epic Confrontation.”

Sideboard cards are also very important in this format, and players should usually end up with five or six strong sideboard cards, he said. “I don't think people sideboard enough.”Encase in Ice and Surge of Righteousness are both very good, and should be taken highly, said Scott-Vargas. He went so far as to put Encase in Ice in the main deck of his Blue-Black deck here on Sunday.

Cuneo agreed, saying he would always play Encase and Surge in his main deck, and would start Rending Volley approximately 40 percent of the time. While those particular color hosers are very strong, “I would never start with Self-Inflicted Wound, and would probably never play Display of Dominance,” he said.

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