Welcome back, travelers! As I mentioned last week, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is not a set that rewards stubbornly sticking to a fixed pick order. Instead, I recommended that you reevaluate cards frequently during a draft to maximize the power level of your decks. However, Ikoria is a complex set and there are people that might need a little help to understand when a card that looks bad becomes good. Or when a card that’s already good becomes fantastic. For them, I shall outline the Ikoria draft archetypes in this article.
With some Magic sets, a breakdown for each of the 10 color pairs is good enough – but not Ikoria. Many color pairs actually have multiple themes with their own unique build-around cards. Ikoria’s variety adds nuance to every draft as you craft a synergistic two-color deck or even splash bomb rares. With the above-average fixing in the set (rare triomes, uncommon crystals, Evolving Wilds, common dual lands, Farfinder), it’s not hard to increase the power of your deck without harming its consistency. By being aware of the set’s diversity in themes, you can properly navigate the different Ikoria draft archetypes while drafting. Then, you will end up with a powerful deck that has a focused plan for victory.
For each theme below, I give a brief description of the theme’s game plan and list its synergy cards. Synergy cards are either the enablers that help you play a certain theme or the payoffs. Payoffs are the cards that reward you for playing into a theme. I list both enablers and payoffs as they all go up in value when you are in that theme. Consequently, many bomb cards and efficient removal cards from Ikoria will not be seen below. Their strength is already quite high and being in one theme vs. another has little-to-no bearing on their value. As I am just listing the cards, I’ve left it up to my audience to read each card and come to their own understanding of how it helps a particular game plan. Ultimately, I have full faith in each of you to figure this out.
Now that you can identify the many themes within the Ikoria draft archetypes, you should be able to make better decisions in your drafts. You’ll see when a certain theme might be open to you by a synergy card coming to you late in Pack 1. You’ll have the ability to understand when a card should be picked because it contributes more to your deck than it normally would. In short, you’ll win more drafts!
Thanks for listening to my words, friends, and may fortune favor you on Ikorian battlefields. If you’d like to join me and a great community of players in our explorations of the different Ikoria draft archetypes and themes, enter our Discord server at https://discord.gg/5nRhMGV. During this time of quarantine, Three Kings Loot still fires draft tournaments, using MTG Arena and 3rd party sites. Come play with us Monday, Friday, and Saturday at 19h30 Eastern Time!
-Evan, Chewer of Thoughts
Hello traveler! Ah, I see you’re going to Ikoria – the Lair of Behemoths. Yes, if I recall it’s a wild plane and full of monsters, both man and beast – all of them sure to be out for your blood. Best not let your guard down! Being a Mythical planeswalker, I have ventured there and survived its dangers time and time again. As a result, I have some advice that might just help you keep your head when exploring the depths of Ikoria Draft. So, please, listen carefully…
It’s dangerous to go alone! Companions are creatures that allow you to play them from your sideboard as long as your starting deck meets the card’s companion requirements. You should take all of them highly. First of all, they are powerful rares with hybrid mana costs. This increases their chance of remaining a relevant first pick. As long as your deck is able to play either of the hybrid colors, you can play it normally. In addition, if your 40-card deck meets their requirements, you can make them your companion. More often than not, it is worth doing this while drafting as long as you maintain an average power level. In Limited, resources are often traded fairly evenly between players and end before either player has seen most of their library. Starting a game with an extra card will end up winning you many duels on Ikoria.
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is not a set that supports blocking. Firstly, there’s a lot of instant speed interaction that can make combat turn out bad for you. Secondly, the value of your own creatures is high. This is especially true for decks that are built around mutating, a set mechanic that demands you have a non-human creature on the battlefield. Finally, there’s an abundance of creature removal, able to take out the biggest bombs and threats of this format.
When you are faced with a choice to block, it’s important to step back and consider if you can afford to accept this damage in exchange for one of their own blockers becoming tapped to attack. You must think about your ability to win a race, given what’s in your hand and your potential draws. After all, in an Ikoria draft, there are many cards that can help you deal damage more quickly than, and ultimately defeat, your opponent.
The first prominent type of card in this set is an efficient removal spell. Blood Curdle, Ram Through, Pacifism, and Fire Prophecy are just a few examples all found at common rarity. Using efficient removal means you spent less to deal with a threat than your opponent spent to cast it, also known as mana advantage. With enough mana advantage, you are able to develop and attack with a few creatures while simultaneously removing their relevant threats. Be aware of the strength of removal in this set and use it judiciously!
The second category I want to note is cards that have the potential to deal huge damage on the turn that you play them. There are many examples in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. Zenith Flare, for decks that are heavily invested in cycling. Similarly, unblocked Prickly Marmosets and several Drannith Stingers also use cycling to deal so much damage that games will suddenly end in your victory. In other decks, mutating creatures effectively grant themselves haste when merging with a non-human that you already own on the battlefield. You can easily swing a race in your favor by adding significant power (Archipelagore) or evasion (Vulpikeet/Cavern Whisperer) to an important attacker. Even the humble Lava Serpent works in a pinch to deal an unexpected 5 damage.
In this set, you should highly scrutinize every block you make, even ones that seem favorable to you. It doesn’t matter if your creature seems much larger or if you might have an instant-speed interaction spell. Ultimately, not blocking means that you avoid risking your board state and you preserve your ability to swing back on future turns. Then, with the aid of the aforementioned spells, you can deal the final points of damage for an exciting victory!
You should take 1 mana cycling (1MC) cards more highly. Particularly if you’re in pack 1 of the draft and there are no above-average playables. These are likely to end up being good picks for several reasons. First, if you end up in the cycling deck, you will definitely play the card. Second, this signals to others that the cycling deck is closed off to them which will help you move into the archetype. Lastly, even if you’re not cycling or of it’s a cycling card you can’t play, they can be used as a colorless cantrip to effectively reduce your deck size. Instead of playing an average 23rd card and a 17th land, you can simply stick two 1MCs in your deck. This increases your chances of drawing powerful cards you want to play.
Keep in mind, however, you’ll need to reduce your land count proportional to the amount of 1MCs you play. Otherwise, you risk drawing too many lands and flooding. Personally, I tend to treat them as non-cards. So, for a deck with five 1MCs, I would build a mana base for a 35 card deck. Meanwhile, others use ratios such as one land removed per every three 1MCs.
No matter what, pay attention to how the deck feels while playing. There’s no exact science to the proper amount of lands when cheap cycling is available. Many factors are involved: cards that cycle for higher costs, the number and quality of your cycling payoffs, whether you’re playing Best-of-One on Arena which uses a hand smoother to improve starting hand quality, etc. All these affect the number of lands a cycling deck might require. The most important thing one can do is stay observant!
An Ikoria draft is not a place for inflexible pick orders. It’s more important to build a deck that synergizes with itself than to end a draft with a mixed bag of “strong” cards. Even some removal is hard to play in certain styles of decks. For example, Rumbling Rockslide has a lower value in streamlined cycling decks. Such decks often posses a low land count both in the library and on the battlefield. In fact, such decks usually look to defeat their opponent before Rumbling Rockslide becomes respectable removal. In those same decks, you will likely want to play Cathartic Reunion to avoid flood. Meanwhile, hardly any other archetype would want such a card. It is one of many cards in this set that may look bad but are useful – somewhere.
You must be able to recognize when a card goes from barely playable to above-average in your deck. Otherwise, you will struggle in this set. A pick order cannot tell you when such moments occur, so you’ll have to determine them for yourself.
Thanks for listening to my words, friends, and may fortune favor you on Ikorian battlefields. Check back here next Wednesday, May 6, for my next article breaking down Ikoria’s many archetypes and themes. It will be a great guideline for understanding the synergies of the set and thinking flexibly about your card evaluations. If you’d like to join me and a great community of players in our explorations of the Ikoria draft format, enter our Discord server at https://discord.gg/5nRhMGV. During this time of quarantine, Three Kings Loot still fires draft tournaments, using MTG Arena and 3rd party sites. Come play with us Monday, Friday, and Saturday at 19h30 Eastern Time!
-Evan, Chewer of Thoughts
Welcome back folks! Today we are back on the old Crack a Pack plan with an eye towards evaluating a pack of Battle for Zendikar for a draft. Let’s open up the pack and see if there is something interesting in here or if we are going to have a tricky time sorting out our first pick.
Mind Raker is a serviceable Hill Giant with upside. It passes the vanilla test just barely but I’m not convinced that the ability to discard a card is overly relevant. I get the sense that if you want to play Processors and Ingestors in your deck that you are looking for something better than making them discard a card. Now, if you don’t happen to have a lot of Processor payoffs and you just sort of jam this guy for the body to get the occasional upside of making your opponent discard then you are probably pretty happy with it. I’m not picking this early and I would expect that if I want it late it’ll likely still be there.
Territorial Baloth just does good work. He is a beefy creature, gets bigger with Landfall and can just make a mess of the battlefield quite quickly. This guy plays super well with things like Evolving Wilds, Blighted Woodland and any spell that allows for more than 1 land per turn at Instant speed. As much as I like this guy (and I had him as a 10/10 for a turn at the pre-release) I would expect that we can do better with our first pick and wait and see if we can find one of these later on in the draft.
Roilmage’s Trick looks like a bad card, but I think it actually plays better than it seems. I’m not thrilled about this being a 4 mana instant, but let’s face it most decks in this format will be at least 2 colours making the Converge ability fairly reasonable. Besides they can’t make this effect be too cheap when Hydrolash from Origins (which is very similar) is 3 mana. Many decks I’ve seen can handle a splash for a third and maybe a fourth if you are in Green. That means you are likely shrinking down your opponent’s creatures by at least -2/0. That means that those 3/2’s are only dealing 1 point. Those Grizzly bears ain’t got no teef! Imagine getting -3/0 or even -4/0? Think about the profitable blocks you could set up knowing that damage will be a minimum. I’m not saying go out and mortgage the farm for this one, but I do think that there is something here and it could be a suitable combat trick. If I find myself in Blue and need a mid-round pick I would look at this seriously.
Outnumber is a very solid Instant speed removal spell. My personal inclination is to say that this is perfect in a R/G or R/W strategy. That’s where you can get lots of inexpensive creatures then follow up by casting this to take our their bomb and then stampede through the hole for the win. I don’t have much to quibble with here and I would absolutely be looking at this early and often in this pack.
Snapping Gnarlid is the baby brother to the Baloth, but is much more playable as a two drop. Not a first pick, but most certainly something I’m going to be keeping my eyes open for if I find myself in Green or Green is showing as being open. I like this guy and likely over value him at this point in the format, but good two drops are always important in a draft deck.
Spell Shrivel is still a no. I’m not big on Counters and that hasn’t changed since last week.
Scour from Existence is still m’eh. I’m not picking this early even if it is good catch all removal. Let’s be honest, how many times will I want to get to 7 and then Exile their thing? If I really need this I’m likely already dead. I would take this once my options start to dwindle or I need a sideboard card, otherwise I’m likely to move on.
Tajuru Beastmaster is the curve topper for a Rally/Ally deck. I’m pretty ok with a big body like this and the quasi Anthem effect could be very potent. This wouldn’t be a first pick, but it is a very solid selection.
Turn Against takes Act of Treason to a whole new level. Instant speed makes this potentially back breaking as you steal their creature, block their other creature (presumably killing them both) and you get to reap the benefits. How frequently that this will be that good remains to be seen, but it is appealing. I’m not sure I like the 5 mana needed to cast this, but at least it is only single Red meaning I could splash it or cast it with minimal strain on my mana. I would expect this to be a fairly early pickup around the draft table because the potential ceiling is very high with this one.
Bloodbond Vampire sort of feels like a payoff for the lifegain deck. Sadly she lacks evasion to truly make her devastating. The bigger perk might be that this is an Ally meaning you can trigger Rally yet again. While this could be pretty strong in the right build, it feels like it could be a bit underwhelming unless you can find it some sweet synergies to tag along.
Tide Drifter is the reverse of Ruination Guide in that it pumps your colourless team +0/+1. That could be relevant and make you more adept at blocking, but that feels like it is a bad tradeoff because now you are inviting a couple of combat tricks to blow you right out. I would be far more inclined to take a Ruination Guide, but in the absence of the Guide this is a decent plan B.
Ruinous Path is a ridiculous bomb here. Sure it is Sorcery speed removal, but it really reads “3 mana make that bad thing go away”. The upside on the Awaken is also not trivial because in the late game this can make a very relevant creature that can shore up the ground game or join in on the beat down. This is very clearly the strongest card in this pack and is an automatic windmill slam.
Rising Miasma seems like it could be a strong card to wipe away an aggressive deck. However, I’m not taking it when I see the Ruinous Path in this pack. It isn’t even the second best Black card in this pack! No, there is little to no chance that I would be keen to pick this up.
Ok folks, this is a pretty easy choice. Ruinous Path is the pick and highly incentivizes us to look at Black in order to make the most of this sort of highly efficient, extremely powerful removal spell. When this pack wheels there is almost no chance of seeing the Complete Disregard so we’ll need to look at other things. Bloodbond Vampire or the Mind Raker might be a choice as a reasonable body in Black, or I might have to look at another colour. B/G might be a fair colour combination and we might get either the Beastmaster, the Gnarlid, or the Baloth. That has some promise. The Blue in the pack looks a little underwhelming but B/U is a very strong colour combination if you can find the right pieces. So, I would be prioritizing Black at this point to try and cut off other players from jumping into Black but I would also have an eye towards keeping an open mind and spotting a strong second colour to pair with Black. However, if my next pack has some ridiculous strong card that I can’t ignore then I might need to re-evaluate my plan and try something a little different.
Well, there we have it. A pretty easy first pick Ruinous Path, but lots of options to weigh as we move forward as we try to maximize our deck. I can’t wait to get my next taste of the draft format because it seems to be so wide open and synergy based that it is fun, refreshing, and always challenging.
Thanks for taking the time to stop in and have a read and as always, have yourself a great MTG day!
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter
Hi folks! Today is pretty exciting because this will be my first Crack a Pack for Battle for Zendikar. With a new Limited format taking shape this is the perfect time to open up a pack and go through card by card to establish what you might take in a draft, if this was your first pack.
I have to say, on the whole, Battle for Zendikar feels very nuanced compared to some of the previous sets. Origins had very clear “good” cards and “bad”cards and even Dragons of Tarkir was fairly obvious. Battle for Zendikar feels much more subtle and it has a lot more conditions for the cards to be good, but once they are good your deck becomes pretty solid. The real danger comes if you aren’t able to grab enough of or the right synergy pieces then your idea starts to fall apart. Your first couple of picks become so crucial to provide you with strong playables, but be certain keep your eyes open to the synergy pieces that are passed to you. With all that in mind, let’s open up the pack and see what we find today!
Giant Mantis is just a solid playable card. It is just a Giant Spider and is nothing fancy. There is no way this is an early pick and will only make your deck for curve consideration reasons. That said, it is a useful card and when you need it you are always thankful it’s in your deck.
Anticipate is one of those cards that always sounds really good, but in a draft deck is often a card that under performs. It just doesn’t impact the board and eats up a valuable card slot. Yes, it is an instant and can help smooth out your draw, but the cost of playing this over something else is real. I’m not a big buyer of this in Limited.
Kozilek’s Sentinel is a more interesting card because as a 1/4 for two mana this is an excellent blocker. The fact that this could gain an extra point of power (or two) is just extra gravy because it costs you nothing extra. This may not be an early pick, but don’t overlook this if you are in red because if you wait too long it’ll be gone.
Inspired Charge is not an early pick. This gets picked up if, you are in a token strategy and can use it something akin to an Overrun effect. I’ll pass on this early because it’ll probably be there late if I am the deck that wants this.
Scour from Existence is a fine card to deal with just about anything and fits in every deck. The exile is nice because a processor card could use the card exiled as fuel for a bit of a bonus too. Sadly, it’s 7 mana. I’m not in on this early, but if I see one later on I might be inclined to pick one of these.
Grave Birthing is something I’m interested in. Not first pick, but interested in. I feel like it starts to help enable you to to play the Eldrazi processor cards as a payoff without skewing your deck to ingest cards. The surprise blocker could also be real. Don’t get the wrong idea, this is a card that has marginal upside and some modest synergy, but I am interested and if I start to see myself taking some processor type cards then I might be more inclined to grab this sort of reasonable enabler.
Broodhunter Wurm is Green’s Summit Prowler-esque card. He’s a very playable 4/3 vanilla creature and will make your deck regularly enough if you want it. I’m not crazy about it, but I recognize this sort of card has definite value. I would be passing this and hoping to see if I can find one later on to fill out my curve.
Spell Shrivel is a counter spell. I’m not really big on counter magic in Limited decks and this is no exception. I’m going to say initially that this is a no but perhaps in a few weeks, after we’ve seen how the format shakes out a little more, I might be inclined to take this a little more highly. We shall see.
Here is the first REAL card I would look at. Complete Disregard is a very good spell. It is reasonably costed, Instant speed removal that even synergizes with Eldrazi processors. This is EXACTLY the sort of card I would consider taking first. The only downside is that it is a little on the conditional side of things with getting things with power 3 or less, but I think that is a reasonable drawback and something that I can work around. This parallels with Reave Soul from Magic Origins very nicely which was a very good common to pick up and I expect Complete Disregard to be similar.
Roil’s Retribution is a very powerful card. Yes, it is 5 mana, but this is similar in many ways to Pyrotechnics that we just got to play with in Fate Reforged. It is Instant speed and almost ensures that you can get a 2 or a 3 for one out of this spell. It is somewhat less flexible because you can’t target your opponent directly to burn them out and you can get punished pretty heavily if your opponent can play around it and make you leave up 5 mana on your turn to avoid getting blown out by it. I feel like those are manageable risks and not a reason to avoid this card. This one would be pulled to the front along with the Complete Disregard.
Ruination Guide looks pretty spicy. If you can get the Eldrazi Scion token swarm deck online this could be just a horrific beating. However, there is a pretty high set up cost to make this really good. I would rather to make sure I had a few other Devoid/Eldrazi cards in my pile first before I go for this guy. This would still be a fairly early pick, but not a first pick until I saw where I was with my deck.
Slab Hammer is a very solid artifact for an aggressive Landfall deck because you get to replay your lands for yet MORE Landfall triggers AND you get the bonus from this. I’m still not picking it highly. This might make my deck as a 22nd or 23rd card, but I can’t see myself prioritizing this too frequently.
Sunken Hollow is a pricey high-end rare that really only pulls its weight in Constructed. The real question is this: do you pass the expensive rare land and take a better playable or do you just rare draft the value? If this is in paper, I’m totally taking the land. If this is on MTGO, I’ll take the playable instead because this will most likely only be worth about half a ticket and not impactful for the deck most of the time.
Fertile Thicket as a foil sure looks pretty. Definitely not a first pick, but it sure is very pretty.
Can you believe the Swamp might be a consideration in this set? With full art basics being a real thing you might actually give this some consideration. I might question your sanity…but hey…maybe you’re a collector? I’m not really. This would be left for near the end of the pack.
First Pick: If this is a draft in paper and I get a shot at a Sunken Hollow then I’m totally grabbing it. I love non-basic lands and go to great lengths to pick up as many as I can. Furthermore, the raw monetary value from this one card makes this very appealing and not something to be passed. Now, if this is an online draft the relative value of Sunken Hollow is minute compared to the paper version. I am also incentivized to win more with more/better prizes, so I would pass on the land and look to be picking up a playable card for my deck. I’ve made the mistake of taking the fancy land online and have no intention of repeating it. No, online I would most certainly be looking at the removal spells first. I think in this pack I would be starting off with the Roil’s Retribution even if it is a little on the expensive side.
This was a very interesting pack because of the presence of the rare land in the pack. The value represented in real life vs the online desire to win is very interesting and a key feature to keep in mind. However, I feel like the Roil’s Retribution is likely the BEST card choice if you are intent on trying to win and not value draft.
Thanks for taking to time to stop in and have read. Next week I’ll have another pack of Battle for Zendikar and we’ll see how things continue to change following the Pro-Tour & Grand Prix, SCGs and more heavy online exposure. But until then, have a great MTG day!
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter
Hi everyone and welcome back to Casual Encounters. Today I am going to do something that I haven’t done in a little while. I have fairly regularly cracked a pack and gone through what I would be looking at if I were starting a draft, but today I’m going to crack that pack and look at for the ART. I call it my Art Draft and today I’ll be busting open a pack of Dragons of Tarkir. Let’s not waste any time, let’s get down to business and see what is in the pack!
Have you ever really looked at the art on Qarsi Sadist? Have you? It is pretty amazing art on a card that is very marginal. The act of sacrificing the man on the altar is pretty detailed, but it is the masks of the guys pinning him down that are pretty chilling. These would be the type of ornate masks I would expect to find right out of some horror movie and are frightening while beautiful. However, look closer. Who’s is that in the background? Yeah, that is Silumgar. I don’t think I’ve ever actually noticed because my eyes get pulled to the masks in gold and the white shroud on the victim, but therehe is lurking in the background. That’s crazy neat. I may not be a big fan of the card, but I’m on board when it comes to this card in terms of art.
Sabretooth Outrider is a fine piece of art where the art is essentially exactly what you were expecting. You get a big cat, plenty off red on account of the colour of the card and generally a pretty predictable card. Heck, I can even account for the first strike because of the lances they are carrying. This is just fine on a card that is also just fine, but no one is getting excited. The white in the background is kind of whitewashing the whole piece, the art is reasonably predictable, and nothing remarkable really stands out. This is just fine, but nothing more.
Champion of Arashin is a little more interesting. The hound in the foreground is very interesting and highly detailed if you look at the armor he’s wearing. The background is also pretty interesting with the other hounds joining the battle as well. However, the real winner here is the fact that they sneak Dromoka into the background breathing a big gout of flame. This is more my style.
Atarka Beastbreaker looks pretty bland to me. Sure, he’s pretty jacked but that is hardly noteworthy. The colors and contrasts are once again kind of washed out and there really isn’t much happening. By comparison, the Champion of Arashin is on the midst of a battle, while this guy is coming home dragging supper behind him. This really isn’t anything super cool even if the card is a fine little card for a draft deck.
Mystic Meditation offers us far more in terms of visual eye candy. The colors are a little sharper and the detail feels like it is just a notch above what we’ve seen done in the other cards. Look at the dragons above the figure in the center and tell me those aren’t detailed portrayals of dragons. The gold steamers coming down from the ceiling look to be floating, further capturing the moment that looks like “mystic meditation” so that the art truly matches the card. I think the aspect that really pulls me into this card is the quote from Narset in the flavor text. I’m a huge fan of this fairly simple card draw spell because the art totally appeals to me.
Butcher’s Glee is one of my favorite combat tricks in the set and art is almost as good. That little goblin just looks so funny coming lunging at you brandishing that huge machete. The big toothy smile says all I need to know about this goblin and what it is feeling. I also really like that the action shot is up close. The close up perspective adds an emotional dimension that reinforces the panic for the card, much like you might feel if you are the one trying to cast this. You don’t want to have this spell fizzle so the sense of panic is real. The flavor text is also pretty neat as we get to know a little bit more about the the little goblin Kneecleaver. I’m just a fan on the whole and feel like the emotion in the card art matches the emotions I feel as I play the card.
Ojutai Interceptor is one of those card that had me excited when the set dropped because I like the art, but I’m less thrilled with it now. Sure, the morph like cloud behind the bird is pretty cool looking but there really isn’t much else to look at. There is a monastery appearing faintly in the background, but even that can not save this card. The bird in the foreground just doesn’t look like much because even the colors are a little muted. Sadly, this one has slipped down my list of card art preference and is much lower than it was a few months ago.
Herald of Dromoka has a lot more of what I like. The foreground is a highly detailed character in mid action which is a good start. The background is very interesting as well with a pile of soldiers leaving the temple on the left hand side of the card frame. They are clearly in a rush because the fortress is under assault. The right hand side of the card frame is a huge Dragon trying to bbq the fortress. My only real complaint with this card is the horn. It just looks so ridiculous right there in the middle of the card. I think the piece of art would have been more powerful with a different horn, but they were looking for a common thread to tie this to the Abzan from Khans of Tarkir. However, I still feel like it looks a little silly and detracts from the rest of the cool art.
Segmented Krotiq is a pretty gross looking centipede but it’s the sheer size of that thing is what’s so neat. Underneath the Krotiq is a monastery of sorts and it is absolutely dwarfed by the size of this gigantic creepy crawley. While I appreciate the proportions of the bug, I’m not hugely enamoured by the art and wouldn’t be putting this super high on my list.
Tail Slash is one of my favorite removal spells from the set but I can’t say the same for the art. The portrayal of the dragon doesn’t seem to match with the images we’ve seen elsewhere in the set. It feels like this has been pulled out of a book on dinosaurs because it looks like a brontosaurus with wings rather than an honest to goodness dragon. Apparently this dragon also got a 2-for-1 out this deal based on the two guys being launched in nearly identical positions. No, I can’t get behind this art even if the spell is very solid removal.
Echoes of the Kin Tree looks like it is a poster for the Hobbit. The relative positioning of the figures in the foreground look like they have been taken right out a movie. Their uniforms are dull to start with and dulled further as our eyes are pulled to the ghostly figure in the background. The art does a good job of conveying the significance of the card because it becomes clear that spirits are supporting the living warriors of the Dromoka brood. The best part for me is the flavour text about the human warriors maintaining their tradition of worshiping the Kin Tree despite Anafenza being executed. This card is reasonable and the art is pretty, but the positioning of the characters on the card feels very cliche.
Dromoka’s Gift is much cooler. I think what appeals to me is the vantage point as you look up, past the soldier being rewarded, up at the face of Dromoka. This feels like the moment is pretty momentous and should be something to take note of. Sadly, the card itself doesn’t match the grandiose art, but we aren’t here to quibble about spells are we. Based solely on the art, this is something that I like and enjoy seeing. If only the spell itself was slightly better.
Self-Inflicted Wound is a grisly card if I’ve ever seen one. Our eyes are drawn to the man in the foreground and the anguish he is experiencing as he fights against himself to try and prevent harm. However, what is interesting is the combination of the corpse in the lower right of the card frame in purple mist and the pair of matching purple cloaked wraiths in the background in the top left. This man clearly has no hope and The Reaper is clearly coming for him. This is chilling and grisly art to say the least and something that is interesting to examine more closely.
Clone Legion is pretty cool simply because of the mirror factor that has matching forces on each side. This feels like a flavor success in the truest sense of the word because the art and name show almost exactly what the card says it does. When art, name and card all match life for the players is made easy and things make sense. When either the card art or the name don’t match, players get confused. Don’t believe me? Check out a card like Tormented Soul or Orchard Spirit which clearly floats because it is a spirit or wraith. It can’t be blocked except by a creature with flying. However, they themselves don’t fly. That’s something that newer players don’t always remember because both of them LOOK like they should be flying. Well, Clone Legion is a win because if you look at the name and look at the art you can get a really good sense for what the card does.
My first pick is going to be the creepy art on Qarsi Sadist. The detail in the masks and the fact that Silumgar is lurking in the background pushes this over the top for me in this pack. This wasn’t the best art pack I’ve ever opened, but there certainly were some pretty reasonable choices. I always like looking at the art on these cards and this was fun today.
Thanks for stopping in to have a read! Have yourself a great MTG day!
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Hey MTGers. I’m back and going to open up a pack of Dragons of Tarkir and have a look at what might be first pick in this pack if I was going to be sitting down to draft. I will also be including a brief tournament report of my most recent draft in order to try and glean some further insight from my results. Let’s get at it!
This pack is very pedestrian and unexciting, but that makes it a good tool to use to help improve card selection and evaluation. The rare is actually something I rather like in Haven of the Spirit Dragon. I’m not overly jazzed about taking it first because it isn’t going to scare anyone, but it is an interesting option to pull and just have in case I happen to see a dragon or two later in the draft. The ability to use this as a Splash land to try and cast a Dragonlord, or even their Fate Reforged variants is very enticing.
The next one that catches my eye is Skywise Teachings. This is similar to Goblinslide in many ways, except that it is more expensive to cast, pricier to activate and requires a fair bit of build around to make it really good. With all those drawbacks, if you can build the deck for it you Skywise Teachings can spit out much valuable tokens. 2/2 Fliers are very relevant and can quickly close out a game. I would entertain this, but I would be very unlikely to select it first because it does require going all in in order to make it work. If this wheels around the table I might take a stab at it and see if the deck is open or not.
Atarka Pummeler is a very serviceable creature that grants your team a form of quasi evasion one you reach Formidable. This looks underwhelming, but in the R/G deck it could be very solid. The activation cost is very expensive and that is fundamentally why I wouldn’t be taking this too early. It’s not a first pick, but it could be a solid pick up.
Deadly Wanderings is just a no. Not a chance. 5 mana for an enchantment that only works if I have 1 creature on the board is just not interesting. I can’t conceive of a game state where I would actually want to play this. By the time I hit 5 mana I had better have more than one creature on the board or I’m likely getting steam rolled pretty hard. No thanks. I’ll pass.
Twin Bolt is very solid early removal. It’s flexible, inexpensive, and in a solid colour. I’m not sure how happy I would be to first pick this, but I would be pulling it forward to see if other cards were better.
Of the remaining commons, I like Sidisi’s Faithful, but I won’t be picking it first. The rest is almost entirely filler and not the least bit interesting until you are in a clearly defined colour pair and looking to fill out your deck.
It only really comes down to Haven vs Twin Bolt. Spike-y players might just grab the removal spell and move on, but there is part of me that is prepared to speculate a little with my first pick and roll the dice with the Dragon land. It is colourless, fits in any deck, and generally could be used to cast big beefy fliers (even the less exciting 6 mana ones from Fate Reforged). I think my first choice here is Haven, but this is something that could be debated very easily and even as I sit here typing I am not 100% convinced.
I got my second chance to have a go at Dragons in a draft the other night and wanted to share a few of my experiences that I would like to help take into lessons moving forward.
I ended up going a very disappointing 0-3 in my draft, but I wasn’t disheartened. Do you ever have those nights where you draft a solid deck, but you struggle to finish people off? That was me. I had a very solid R/G deck that had suitable amounts of removal, sizeable creatures and some fun combat tricks. However, what the deck was lacking was a genuine bomb. All the packs I opened had very poor bulk rare cards and I didn’t see any super powerful bombs that I could punch into this deck to close the deal. The best I could do was a Myth Realized (that I splashed but was largely ineffective) and a Frontier Siege that I opted to pass in favour of a Temur Sabretooth. As a result, the most common result was for me to stall out my opponent only to run out of answers and not have something to deal with their bomb in response.
Match 1– Played a player showing Jund colours. He had pulled Den Protector and I saw Flatten a number of times. Game 1 was very grindy and lasted 25 minutes but eventually my defenses caved. In game 2 I got back in the game and had my Lightning Berserker deal an astonishing 11 points of damage. I finally burned him out with Sarkhan’s Rage to even the match 1-1. In game 3 I had to mulligan down to 5. At 5 cards I was looking at 2 lands and decided that a mediocre 5 was better than dropping to 4 cards, so I kept. However, I didn’t draw another land at all and was crushed under a wave of creatures. Boo…I was 0-1 but feeling good about my chances.
Match 2– Played an opponent showing Bant colours and got blown out in game one by a well-timed Dromoka’s Command and a bunch of fliers. Game 2 was more of the same and was dead in short order. Yuck. 0-2 and not really enthused.
Match 3– Opponent was playing Esper. I got out to a good start but a couple of quick removal spells took care of most of my pressure. We both stalled a bit and built out our boards for a bit and were in a stalemate. This is where the lack of a bomb hurt me because he cast Dragonlord Silumgar, took my Temur Sabretooth, and the rest was academic. Game 2 was very similar and we stalled out pretty good. I was likely slightly ahead, but I had a tough time gaining any advantage profitably without taking a pile of damage on the crack back. Temur Sabretooth was on board and playing good D. I was eyeing up casting Pinion Feast on his Abzan Skycaptain thinking that I could handle the counters landing on his Jeskai Sage, but I’m glad I held off. The next turn he cast Silumgar again and I immediately Feasted it. Thank goodness. It still didn’t help me much as I got pecked at by some fliers and eventually couldn’t answer the flying creatures.
0-3 and a little disappointed, but I didn’t feel like I mis-played my cards. Sometimes mistakes cost you games. Sometimes your opponents have better decks. However, there are a few things I’ve learned from this.
Like I said, I felt the deck was solid. I knew I was a little light on creatures, but with a pair of Formless Nurturing I figured I was ok on that front. I liked my removal package and felt it was quite solid considering my colours. The only problem was the lack of a genuine bomb to seal a game. Sigh. Oh well. Next time I end up drafting this sort of deck I will need to be sure to pack more creatures and fewer spells to give this sort of underpowered deck a better fighting chance.
Thanks for stopping by to read. I hope you guys have a great MTG day and stop by for some more Casual Encounters soon!
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter
By Samuel Carrier
As a breath of fresh spring air, modern master 2015 has arrived! I couldn’t wait so long after a great drafting experience with the first set, Modern Masters. An awesome set including great cards and value at the same time! Since the spoiler was available a week before I had a look at articles and archetypes available in the 249 cards Wizards got up for us! So as soon as the set was available and playable at my LGS (local gaming store) I would look forward enjoying a well balanced set and have fun with the new archetypes.
This archetype goal is to put counters when our creatures comes into play to gain advantage with abilities requiring to have counters on your creatures to be targeted.
Aquastrand Spider: a 2/2 bear that gives reach! sign me up!
Cytoplast Root-Kin: a 4/4 for 4 mana that give another +1/+1 counter to those who already have on except himself. Also, the fact you can graft multiple times on bigger creatures is nuts.
Helium Squirter:even if its a 3/3 for 5 mana but the fact it gives flying to another creature can be useful.
Plaxcaster frogling: a 3/3 for 3 mana graft that
Your goal is to dump as many Artifacts onto the battlefield to gain advantage by having three Artifacts or more to activate metalcraft and to reduce the cost of your spells as well.
You do have tons of equipment to be more effective and plenty of good little guys.
Here are the core cards you will look to get:
Etched champion: Quick beater and hard to manage if your enemy is low on artifacts.
Indomitable archangel: A 4/4 flyer for 4 mana that protects all your artifact. So good!
Blinding souleater: A phyrexian tap creature that’s a 1/3 for 3 mana.
Cranial Plating: No explanations needed for this card, it’s a stapple of Modern Affinity deck.
Your goal is to burn and agressively attack your opponent with bloodthirsted guys and cost effictive guys.
Here are the core cards you will look to get:
Ashenmoor Gouger: A big 4/4 for 3 mana that cant block.
Stormblood Berserker: A 1/1 bloodthirst 2 for 2 mana with evasion.
Vampire outcast: A 2/2 bloodthirst 2 lifelink for 4 mana
Your goal is to cast multiple spells that does 1/1 tokens and boost them to kill your opponent:
Here are the core cards you will look to get:
Scatter the seeds: A 5 mana convoke spell that does 3 tokens.
Scion of the wild: aA 3 mana power and toughness of numbers of creatures you ontrol. (I made him 7/7 or 8/8 sometimes)
Kavu primarch: a 3/3 for 4 mana that can be kicked to be 7/7 and can be paid convoke!
And the MVP here
Overwhelm: a +3/+3 all your guys instant and convoke. Really great to finish off.
This archetype use the soulshift ability for redundancy of spells and creature. They also have good comes into play abilities.
Here are the core cards you will look to get;
Thief of Hope; a 2/2 for 3 mana soulshift 2 that if you play a spirit or arcane drain 1 life.
Nameless inversion: A 2 mana +3/-3 removal as an instant that can be recurred with soulshift and can be used as a kill condition later if you play big thoughness guys.
Hikari, Twilight Guardian: A 4/4 flyer for 5 mana that can blink until end of turn when you play a spirit or arcane.
Grixis (U/R/B) good ol’times by Samuel Carrier
I went 2-0-1 with the deck.
So my deck goal was to gain time to drop big bombs and win. Having 3 bounce lands and Evolving Wilds plus 2 Sphere of the suns and Expedition Map made the mana base smooth and perfect to run so many multiple colorful costs( i.e. Gorehorn minotaurs, Vampire outcasts, Cryptic command, Niv Mizzet, etc) This deck also shows that even if you want to follow an archetype, you still need to check for signals. Sphere and Expedition maps are 3rd to 6th pick easily as it stabilize color splashing for removals or bombs if necessary.
Also, having 2 fireslingers and 2 two-drops with burst lightning made the bloodthirst trigger easily. Given I had big cheap guys, I had a race versus Eldrazi decks. The Graft archetype was the hardest one I faced as I had to draw with my opponent for lack of time game 3 on my second match.
After I attended two sealed events, I can tell that Green Red is really the best duo as they’re so many mana accelations in the format to ramp to eldrazis sometimes plus the best cheap burns as Lightning bolt and Burst lightning. They can also run boardsweeper as Savage twister or Wildfire. Affinity metalcraft has to be really really strong to win in the format.
Most of the time, you will use a few artifacts to fill in except in the case of an extremely good Affinity picks. Given of that, Smash to smithereens is a good card to play to create advantage. I wish I could’ve attended GP Las Vegas or GP Utrecht as they both are amazing events to attend to. I wish the best to all of you readers and you can be sure I will be at the next Modern masters GP!!
See you around,
By Samuel Carrier
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Wow. It has been a while since I last cracked a pack for my own blog. The last time I posted one was March 10th! Yikes. Since then Dragons of Tarkir has become a thing and NOW Modern Masters 2015 is hitting the shelves (like TODAY). I guess that sort of makes Dragons of Tarkir old news, but I still enjoy the set. So, I’m going to open up a pack and have a look and see what I would take if I was sitting down to start a draft. Let’s take a look at the pack.
This is a very interesting pack. It has some solid playables, the uncommons seem strong, and an intriguing rare card. Let’s start with the rare and move from there. Volcanic Vision is a fascinating card to open up. My first gut reaction was “No Way”. The 7 mana is extremely steep and the fact that it returns a Sorcery or Instant to my hand is hardly exciting. However, I sat and thought about the card for a long while and I feel like my first reaction might have been way off.
The text on the card reads “Return an Instant or Sorcery from your graveyard to your hand. Volcanic Vision deals damage equal to that card’s converted mana cost to each creature your opponents controls. Exile Volcanic Vision”. The key word here is EACH. You could conceivably have this behave like a one sided sweeper, provided you have a suitable target in your graveyard. Herein lies the problem. The conditional nature of the spell, that you need a good target to get good value, is crucial and a major stumbling block for the card. Most times you have things like Roast, Twin Bolt, Wild Slash, or even Bathe in Dragonfire as suitable targets, but I’m not thrilled by those. Each of those spells deal a couple of points of damage, wipe out a couple of “bears”, but I’ve invested a huge amount of mana in this silly spell. The return just might be marginal or I open myself to being blown out by a 2 mana Negate. Also, the typical Red burn spells or cheap enough that they won’t handle the big threats that MUST be answered meaning that my 7 mana hasn’t done enough to win me the game. So, I keep thinking, these Burn spells CAN’T be the intended target of Volcanic Vision and there must be a better target worth playing.
The real payoff for playing Volcanic Vision is buying back something like a Fierce Invocation, a Pyrotechnics, or a Sarkhan’s Rage. All of these spells have a converted mana cost of 5 mana and that essentially burns out all the creatures your opponent is likely to be using. Now, all of these are plausible options to be able to pick up, and the one sided wrath-esque effect is pretty terrific, but that feels like a lot of things that need to line up just right for this to work.
If you take Volcanic Vision it is very much a speculative sort of pick and one you are hoping pays off in the end. The power level of this card is extremely high because it could wipe out everything your opponent has on the battlefield, but in that same vein it could sit in your hand. In addition to the raw damage being dealt by Volcanic Vision, you are full on getting your instant/sorcery spell back and can recast it all over again. The potential to generate massive card advantage off the torching of a bunch of creatures your opponent controls and getting a card back is pretty insane and might be worth the risk.
I would look at this and think seriously about it. I think it would garner some consideration because the power level is so high, but this is a very speculative first pick and contingent on having some other cards to play into it in order to generate maximum value.
The next card that gets my eye is Swift Warkite. 6 mana for 4/4 flier that gets me back a card from the graveyard is nothing to take lightly. My issue with this as a first pick is that it is a gold card meaning that there is a higher chance I can’t play it. I’m not going to rule it out, but I’m not excited to pick a gold card first because it just forces me to be so much more inflexible if I intend on playing it.
Salt Road Ambushers is essentially a Hill Giant that also packs a powerful ability and the ability to come into play as a Megamorph. The raw stats make it quite playable, and the Morph cost is hardly outrageous either. However, the real payoff is whether you can make the extra ability that grants +1/+1 counters to creatures as they flip up an actually relevant line of text. The question is how many Morphs are you going to be able to grab? How many creatures can you Manifest? If you are sold on the Morph/Manifest style deck then this would be an amazing first pick and a real engine to help your Morphs outclass the opponent very quickly. However, Megamorphs are slightly less prevalent than they were in Khans of Tarkir and typically more expensive meaning that you might only ever get to flip 1 or 2 Morphs in a game. That sort of return is hardly overwhelming, but it is nice to think that you could make it work.
Strongarm Monk comes with a form of super Prowess and that might entice some people to jump on board. I’m not a big fan and I feel like for his raw stats that I’m getting short changed. Also, I’m not keen to need to pack my deck full of non-creature spells in order to get this sort of bonus. I feel like this sort of bonus is at odds with the need to play creatures in my draft deck in order to get work done and that finding enough good non-creature spells is a little tricky. I can see the value, but this would not be something that catches my eye much.
Coat with Venom is a fine combat trick. Not a first pick, but a fine combat trick.
Anticipate plays along really nicely with Strongarm Monk but I don’t think that deck manipulation is so important that I need to take this first. No, this will be a much later pick if I find myself in blue.
Kolaghan Aspirant is a fine 2 drop by is also not a first pick. Moving on.
Enduring Victory highlights the ongoing cost increase for removal spells. This acts just like Divine Verdict, but now we’ve added an extra mana to the casting cost in order to justify Bolster 2. Don’t get me wrong, the Bolster is nothing to sneeze at and you’ll run the removal spell, but I do miss having more access to efficient removal.
Epic Confrontation would actually be something that catches my eye because it is a very efficient and powerful removal spell. The +1/+2 it grants really pushes the power level on the card and allows creatures to punch out of their regular “weight class”. As much as it would be strange, I would have this pulled to the front and give it a hard look to be first pick.
Of the remaining cards, Tormenting Voice, Keeper of the Lens, Reckless Imp, Elusive Spellfist, and Conifer Strider, exactly none of them would even get a look for first pick. I would rather speculate on the 7 mana rare or the over costed super-prowess Monk than try these on for size. So, that sums up what I think of this group.
My first pick would be Volcanic Vision. I would be prepared to speculate on my first pick with something that behaves like a pseudo asymmetrical board wipe knowing that I’m not married to that card or that colour. However, I know that I need to be on the lookout for useful instants and sorceries in order to get maximum value for this card.
Thanks for taking the time to stop by. What you would be taking from this pack? Would you be trying the Volcanic Vision? The Warkite? Epic Confrontation? Leave me a comment down below and let me know what you think!
Have yourself a great MTG day.
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter