How important is mana in Khans of Tarkir Draft?
It's a simply question but just as deep and penetrating as when we asked about it yesterday for Sealed. There we learned that mana really matters, and the "really" is for real. Whether its to power out the best spells in your pool or to add even more powerful cards for "free" effectively, it was the nonbasic lands that truly shined.
With one draft already complete at Grand Prix Orlando, we caught up with a few folks that executed a 3-0 sweep of their draft pod to see what their thoughts on were.
"Tell Rich I had the pick order set on Monday," Frank Karsten said as we chatted up, referring to coverage reporter and all-around Magic legend Rich Hagon's Day 2 introduction where he predicted Karsten would have a pick order by lunch time. Karsten, a seven-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor with a win in Copenhagen long ago and a couple World Championship and Pro Tour Top 8s thrown in to boot, is a member of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame and all-around man of the numbers. Known for dissecting what matters and why in decks, he always has insight into which cards matter most – relatively speaking – for draft formats.
How important is the mana in draft?
"Well, the mana is one of the most important things in the format," Karsten explained. "You can draft a sweet five-color deck with all the good stuff but if you don't have the lands you'll lose because you can't cast your spells in time. If you want to draft multiple colors you should value the mana fixing – lands – very highly. Even if you're playing just three colors it helps to have a few lands to smooth your mana. Depending on your strategy, like how many color you'd like to go, you might have to start first-picking lands."
So does that mean your picks should follow your lands? "It definitely depends on what you're drafting," Karsten said. "If you plan on drafting five colors you'd better start taking the lands early. If you aren't planning on drafting five colors, then the double lands activate as multicolor cards in a sense that you're not sure whether they'll fit in your deck. You won't take them as highly then. After the first pack or so when you know how many lands you have you'll adjust form there. In general, my drafting is guided more by the lands that I have than the multicolor bombs I've picked up."
The Banners were something many players looked to avoid in Sealed. Does their value change at all in Draft? "It's still roughly the same," said Karsten. "I would prefer a deck without any banners – mana fixing in my lands – but if you need a fixer and you have too many colors I'll play a banner, but I won't pick them up highly. They usually go around the table."
Karsten's pithiest comment was, perhaps, the most telling: "The format is a lot about mana."
However, you don't need to dive into fine numbers to get a sense of how mana works in format. When you play enough Limited, from formats with focus on everything from colorless to multicolor, you can tease out impressions upfront.
Sol Malka won Grand Prix Tampa over a decade ago, and never stopped cracking booster packs since. While he doesn't sleeved up Standard decks these days, his passion for Limited meant he never let the game go.
"I like talking about mana and mana bases," Malka said. "Back in Invasion, the first time I played Nationals, I had a Grixis deck and Crosis, the Purger primarily in black and I was cutting more powerful cards in favor of more black to decrease my chances of not casting my spells."
As someone with self-professed love for Armillary Sphere during Shards of Alara and Prophetic Prism during Return to Ravnica, Malka has strong feelings on how much mana matters in Khans of Tarkir Draft compared to Sealed.
"It's still important," said Malka. "My first draft – I'm speaking to Limited results since today is the first time I've gotten to draft Khans of Tarkir– was 9 Island, 7 Plains. In the last round the other match at the table had just a white-red deck. I cast Despise on my opponent Seth Manfield in game two and he had two Swamps, Plains, and Savage Knuckleblade. He crumbled from there and that shows what can happen when you branch out."
"I've seen people played a tapped land – gaining life every turn – or you can be a two-color deck and loss less games to yourself and variance," Malka continued. "In the second draft I have two very powerful cards blue cards in my sideboard, but they're there for the sake of consistency. Sometimes you might set out to be three colors because you opened a bomb, but you find you just don't get the necessary fixing and you have to tighten up your color distribution in deckbuilding. I set to build and contemplated putting my bomb on the bench so I could play just two colors."
Is Malka advocating forcing a two-color deck? "The first draft was an anomaly: I had figured out by pack two that I'd be a two-color deck," Malka explained. "Generally you'll be a three-color deck because you'll lose to power. You won't have a problem filling out a deck, especially if you're three colors. Lands rate very highly in a sense since you're not going to be short of spells. There's nothing else in pack three I would have taken over an on-color dual land than the my two first picks."
So how to the lands fit into Malka's draft plan? "If you're playing more than two colors mana is extremely important. I'd take dual lands over almost any other card if its on color, and a land is worthy of a first pick if it fixes all your colors," Malka said, referring to the tri-lands at uncommon. "That's what I did in pack three of the first draft: I picked Nomad Encampment even though in the end I ended up abandoning the Mardu Ascendancy and Sultai Scavenger I had picked earlier.
"If you're not getting the fixing you want or isn't in the packs there for taking, you'll have to leave some of your more powerful cards on the bench for the sake of consistency," said Malke. "To that end, depending on what colors you're playing, cards that filter can help you with that: Bloodfire Mentor, Tormenting Voice can ditch cards you can't play, or extra lands you don't need. I'll ditch Mantis Rider if I don't have the Island to play it."
So does that mean the Banners rate better than they do in Sealed? "I'll play one. I have one in this deck," Malka said. "It was fine when I drew it. If you're playing lots of colors and you play a Banner, and you have a choice of Banner to play, choose the banner that's more in your primary colors so you can increase the chance of cycling it, similar to Cluestones in Dragon's Maze. Games, certainly in Sealed, come down to who drew more action. I wouldn't go 'Turbo Banner' like I see some people do because you end up with too much mana and it still costs six mana to pop. One is fine but I'd still much rather get my mana from lands so I have more slots for spells."
Lands are still the talk of the town in Khans of Tarkir Draft and yesterday's endcap of Sealed advice still holds for Draft: Lands matter.