Riverwheel Aerialists - Drafting Khans of Tarkir

Further Deep Thoughts on… Drafting Khans of Tarkir

By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

As someone who really enjoys playing Limited games of Magic I was pretty excited to have a relatively free weekend not all that long ago where I could go and play a couple of drafts and try out some new and different things.  I know that there are many players out there who play Magic online through MTGO, but I am not one of those guys.  I have an account, and have played a few games here and there, but I prefer the live experience of sitting down with other players and actually playing the game.  This means I am likely to get far fewer opportunities than an online player because I need to make time in my schedule to make it to a store and draft instead on just firing up the old computer and grinding out a few matches when it is convenient.  Don’t get me wrong…I’d likely enjoy the online experience too, but it is just not something I’m prepared to get too heavily involved in when my budget for playing the game is as limited as it is.

Anyway, back to the point, I was prepared to hit two drafts in two nights and was really excited for it.  However, after the two nights I left slightly disheartened because I didn’t do very well.  I was 2-2 on the first night and was 0-2 and had to drop on account of a family emergency on the second night leaving me 2-4 for the weekend.  That’s not a particularly good record and had me wondering what the heck I was doing. I was really questioning my own ability to play and more importantly, why was I trying to write anything about my experiences when I couldn’t even manage to go 3-3?  What was I offering to the community if I am below the “Mendoza line” and simply stinking out the joint?  Well, I took a little time off and thought about where I fit and why I feel like I have some valid contributions to make to those who read my material here on Three Kings Loot (or anywhere else for that matter).

There are two reasons that I write.  The first one is entirely self-serving. As someone who doesn’t get too many chances to play, but still really enjoys to play Limited, the best way for me to try and improve my skills is to spend my time thinking about drafting and thinking critically about card choices and evaluation.  The writing here on Three Kings Loot helps me to try and stay as sharp as possible and to be thinking in preparation of my draft opportunities to make the most of them. For a guy with only 3 official drafts of the Khans format under his belt, I lack the repetition that many players have but I feel like I can make up for SOME of this with my preparation.  There is still no substitute for the experience, but preparation can go a long way to helping to shrink that gap.

The second reason is something I heard on a podcast.  The hosts were going on about how it is important to gather up as much aggregate data as you can in order to gain a sense for what works, what doesn’t and why.  If you only ever used your own experience you would come to many of the same conclusions, but it would take you far longer to gather the evidence you need to make that conclusion.  However, by using the relevant experiences of others, including mistakes and misplays, you can improve your game and learn from their mistakes more quickly.  This is my more significant contribution.  Yes, you could go and read or watch about the experiences of a professional player and watch as they don’t misplay and have got the card selection narrowed down very finely, but you haven’t seen the leg work that they have put in to get to those decisions that they have been refining off camera for weeks.  By reading about the mistakes of others who DO misplay and make HORRIBLE pick errors, you can see some of the work leading to those conclusions and accelerate your learning for your next limited experience.

With that sort of thought freshly in my mind I feel better about my drafts.  I feel like in both situations I drafted very viable decks that were quite reasonable.  Now, the 1st draft (Thursday Cheap night) was my better deck on a number of levels starting right from the 1st pick in pack 1, but I don’t regret either deck.  On the Thursday I drafted a Sultai deck that I felt had all the bits and pieces to really hang with the big boys.  The ceiling on the power level was quite high, I had a very solid curve with a number of very solid Morphs that could come down by turn 3 and start plugging up the ground, and even had enough mana fixing to support a 3 colour deck.  On the whole it felt pretty good.  On the Friday at FNM I started down the path of Temur, but as we progressed  through the draft the deck changed and took on more of a 5 colour feel.  I was happy to explore the 5 colour deck for something relatively unique that I have never tried before, but the power level just wasn’t high enough to really warrant such a deck. Let’s have a look at those deck lists.


Thursday Night Draft

Sultai Deck draft picks


For this Draft I was excited to play Sultai because my first pick was Villainous Wealth. I won’t go on too much about it here, but the card was really good for me.  As we kept moving through the draft there was a pretty solid Sultai deck coming my way and what clinched it was a Rakshasa Vizier who is a rare card that is marginal in most decks, but in a deck with a couple of Delve outlets could be a real game breaker.  The Vizier was passed to me late and I jumped on it, really sealing the fate of the deck.  However, the deck felt very solid and I was pretty pleased.

Match 1 went my way with a 2-0 win including an awesome Villainous Wealth for 5 that flipped over and Arrow Storm for lethal in game 1.  Game two was the Mystic of the Hidden Way show and the Abomination of Gudul playing second fiddle to get the job done.

Round 2 saw me sit down and play a ridiculous Abzan deck.  In game one he curved into Abzan Falconer, Tuskguard Captain, Armament Corps on turns 3,4 and 5…leaving me essentially dead on board.  I did manage to stabilize and remove the biggest threats, only to be blown out by Duneblast.  Game 2 was somewhat better because he got out to an early lead again, but I fought back and Villainous Wealthed him for 6 turning up 5 permanents I could play…only to see the Duneblast a second time rendering me dead on board all over again.

Round 3 saw me grind out a super long match where I ended up decking myself in game 1 and going to extra turns in game 2, only to lose the match because I lost game 1.  It felt pretty yucky, but what can you do?  My deck hung in there and I just couldn’t squeeze through enough to close the deal despite being in the driver’s seat for most of the game.

Round 4 was the Bye, and while I am loath to count it, the computer seems to think I won a match and I’ll take it.  I would have much rather had a chance to play, but those are the breaks.


FNM draft deck

5 Colour draft deck



Right from the beginning I didn’t feel as if this draft was going my way.  Pick 1 Pack 1 was Meandering Towershell (a.k.a The Durdle Turtle).  That’s not really the sort of card you want to take first, but I feel, based on the strength in the rest of the pack and that Green is generally a pretty strong colour that it was the best pick to make in that pack.  One thing I did remember from the night before was the possibility of a board stall and so I made sure to pick up a Roar of Challenge to try and set up a ridiculous alpha strike to close out a game.  As we kept moving through the draft I was noticing that there was loads of mana fixing available and that there were a number of Gold cards floating around.  I started making a point to grab some of these and to take a stab at the 5 colour deck.  As you can see, I had the mana base for it, but what I lacked was the relative power level in the deck.  What I had were Gold cards that didn’t impact the board overly much like Temur and Sultai Ascendancy but could be splashy.  That ended up putting a lot of pressure on my creatures, many of which were just average creatures like Mardu Blazebringer and Riverwheel Aerialists, to carry the load of breaking down the board stall and getting me a win. They couldn’t quite manage it and I ended up stalling.

I won’t recap the matches I played because I only played a pair of them because I ended up having to leave on account of a family emergency.  However, once again, board stalls were the order of the day and one of the matches went to extra turns and I came out of the wrong end of that exchange again.

Hits and Misses


Villainous Wealth: This over performed in my estimation.  Any time you can fire off one spell and net 3 or 4 cards off it is just pure evil.  It breaks a board stall wide open and can absolutely warp a game.  Yes, it takes some set up, and sure you need a fair pile of mana to make it worth it, but if you can stabilize the board you can likely make this one work for you because of the regular board stall situation in the game.  I will be making a point of grabbing this one and using it the next time I see it.

Mystic of the Hidden Way: Again, a great way to bust open a board stall was to have an unblockable creature.  He’s not flashy, but good lord is he effective to just chip away at a life total while letting you keep your shields up.  This guy is a star and well worth the pickup to ensure you can get through.

Heir of the Wilds:  He’s just unfair.  He’s really a 3/3 with Deathtouch in many decks and just provides enough insurance because nobody is keen to tussle with this guy.  Perhaps the best 2 drop in the format.

Riverwheel Aerialists: A 4/5 with Flying and Prowess is a pretty stacked creature.  This was a menace and my opponents quickly opted to take it out rather than dealing with the humungous flier buzzing around.

Monastery Flock: You know what deals with fliers really well?  The Flock.  A- it is cheap to cast B- very little can fight its was through an 0/5 flier and C- no one ever thinks to use removal on a 0/5…c’mon…what sort of threat is that?  So, needless to say, this is just an all-star blocker.  Put this is a Secret Plans deck, net the cards off the Cheap Morph, and enjoy your big blocker!


Durdle Turtle:  I was not a fan of this…I even got passed the stupid Temur Ascendancy and I wanted to live the dream of having the Turtle trigger the extra card draw on the Ascendancy.  Instead I got a big, dumb, slow creature that routinely died to Kill Shot or Smite the Monstrous.  Yuck.

Bouce effects: Ok…I’m not calling these a bust…because they straight up blew me out on two occasions…but they wrecked me and left me fuming because of something as simple as Force Away.  My spells fizzled ALL THE TIME…particularly Roar of Challenge as I set up an Alpha strike.  Grrr!  Good cards…but irritating to play!

5 colour decks- These are just not all that good compared to more reliable decks.  The upswing in power doesn’t always trade off well against the much poorer mana.  Also, unless you grab a ridiculous Gold bomb early (Duneblast, Villainous Wealth etc) that facilitates you forcing 5 colour, you are unlikely to have enough benefit to really take advantage of you forcing 5 colours.  I was listening to a podcast and they were discussing the relative success of the 5 colour deck and found that it was quite low. Either the deck performed amazing or it just whiffed.  I tend to agree…the deck was somewhat underpowered and really not as good as I had hoped.  I have a feeling I will try to avoid it in the future.

Banners:  I was mildly disgusted with myself for having to play a banner and it was just a bust.  I would have much rather done all sorts of things instead of playing it.  I would avoid it in the future because I would rather have had a creature, any creature, instead of it.  Card slots matter in this format, particularly when many decks are sacrificing picks to select lands and are opting for 22 cards and 18 land, and this is a waste of a card.


Well, there we have it.  This has been a fairly lengthy article, but hopefully it helps someone out there.  I can’t wait to take another crack at a draft, but that may need to wait a few weeks with Christmas looming and family obligations pending.  Oh well…hopefully these lessons continue to bear fruit into the Fate Reforged/Khans format that will follow early in the New Year.


Thanks for reading this week and as always keep it fun, keep it safe…and keep it casual.


By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter