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
Draft may be Magic‘s most popular Limited format, but it is by no means the only one. Sealed is a Limited format which is played at Pre-releases, Launch events, PPTQs and Grands Prix. If you’ve ever contemplated playing Magic competitively, chances are, you’ll eventually find yourself staring down at a Sealed pool.
There are a lot of people that dislike Sealed tremendously because of its higher variance. The “luck factor” of opening a strong pool versus a weak one as well as the constraints of building a deck from a more haphazard pool of cards frustrates some. For others, that higher variance is exactly what excites them when playing the format. Making sense of the randomness presented to you in a Sealed pool can be a challenging and enjoyable puzzle to solve. Let’s take a look at the basics of Sealed Deck construction and go over a few strategies I’ve developed playing the format.
Sealed is a Limited format, which means you must build and play with a deck constructed from a limited supply of cards. Sealed is played by opening six booster packs and building an at minimum 40 card deck from the 90 cards you opened. You may only use the cards found in those six boosters (your Sealed pool) with the exception of Basic lands, of which you can have any number in your deck.
Typically, you’re looking to run a deck with 23 spells and 17 lands. If your deck happens to curve lower and be more aggressive, you might consider running 24 spells and 16 lands. Likewise, if your deck is more geared towards control with a number of cards on the higher end of your curve, it’s common to run 22 spells with 18 lands.
When building your Sealed deck, you’ll want to pay attention to your mana curve (or curve for short). Make sure that you have a good number of cards to play at each turn of the game. In most Sealed formats, the 2 converted mana cost (CMC) and 3CMC cards are typically the most important to consider when fine-tuning your deck. You want to have strong cards in those slots because those will allow you to respond to early game challenges while at the same time help you develop toward your late game. A common mistake for beginners is focusing on high mana cost bombs and stuffing as many as they can into their decks while ignoring or playing filler for their 2-3 drops.
The struggle players face when building a Sealed deck is narrowing down their 90 card pools to an optimal 22-24 cards. There is no “set method” or “definitive formula” for how to approach building a Sealed deck and knowing how to parse the information overload of a Sealed pool is a practiced skill. Each player may approach any one Sealed pool in completely different manners. That being said, there are a few steps you can take which can make things easier for you when constructing a deck.
Please note: The following are techniques that work for me when building my Sealed deck. They are by no means a definitive “How To” guide. If something I do works for you, feel free to use it. If it doesn’t, keep trying other methods, as it’s important to find what works for you!
The first thing to do when opening your packs is to sort you cards into their correct colours. Typically, I’ll have 8 piles: White, Blue, Black, Red, Green, Multicoloured, Artifacts/Colourless, and Lands. Getting your cards into piles will give you a quick visualization of how many cards you have to play with in each colour.
I’ll typically separate my creature spells and creature producers from my non-creature spells and lay them out on a curve – from 1CMC to 6+CMC.
What do I mean by creature producers? Some cards aren’t creature spells but they make creature tokens. Dance with Devils and Devil’s Playground from Shadows Over Innistrad are great examples of what I mean by creature producers. Dance with Devils is an Instant and Devil’s Playground is a Sorcery, but they make creature tokens. Spells such as those are added to my creature count.
I typically try to run 15 creatures and 8 non-creature spells plus or minus one or two depending on the deck I’m playing. If I notice I have a colour with a smaller pool of creatures, that might sway me away from playing the colour. For example, if I’ve got a small number of White or Green creatures – the two colours I tend to associate with having the strongest creatures overall – I might opt to set those colours aside unless the creatures in my pool are amazing. On the flip side, I would consider running Blue even if I have fewer Blue creatures because I tend to value Blue’s non-creature spells higher.
The strongest cards in your pool are what we call “Bombs”. After sorting by colour and type, take a look at what you feel are your biggest bombs. The trick here is not to force a colour just because you’ve got a powerful card in that colour. If you have the means of splashing an off-colour bomb, however, that’s an important factor to consider when deck building.
Also known as “having a game plan”. A lot of players will vaguely define this without actually explaining what this means.
You need to figure out what your deck is doing (i.e. does it have some sort of synergy, some sort of method of winning the game) and you need to figure out how you can get to the cards you want to draw. Bombs are amazing to have, but they’re useless if they’re stuck in your deck. When building your deck, you need to think about what you want to be doing until you have a way to draw into your bomb. Do you have enough early creatures to gum up the ground battles? Do you have a way to interact with fliers who try to go over the top? How can you break up a board stall? Can I draw cards to find my bombs? Can I filter cards? Search for cards? These are the questions you need to ask yourself.
Overlooking one of these factors can be detrimental when trying to build a solid deck. I once opened an incredibly strong pool, only to build a deck that didn’t have any answers to flying creatures. It was only after losing my first two rounds to stereotypical WU Skies decks that I realized I hadn’t factored in a strategy to deal with fliers when building the deck.
Most importantly, I firmly believe that getting to your bombs quicker in Sealed is far more important than having a synergistic deck. Removal is sparse and building a deck with strong synergies is more difficult to accomplish in Sealed. This means that building a deck that finds a way to get to bombs quicker is probably a better idea than focusing on building a deck with cute interactions that might not win you the game. My goal when playing Sealed is: Get to my bomb. Stall out until I can get to my bomb. Win the game. In that order.
Because synergistic strategies are more erratic in Sealed, if someone has built a deck with strong synergy or a strong interaction, it actually becomes exponentially more powerful. This means that if I see my opponent putting together pieces toward a strong interaction, my game plan shifts to disrupting it by any means necessary.
As with any format in Magic, removal is key. Try to pack in as much removal as possible into your deck. If you don’t have removal, throw in extra creatures or extra disruption. When building your deck, consider that your opponent will be building toward their plan and look at what cards you have that can be used to disrupt that plan.
The biggest obstacle I see most players struggle with is over-complicating their decks. They run four colours when they would be fine with two. They run cards they know are great in Draft but aren’t as great in Sealed because they don’t have the synergy to go with it. They run a weaker colour over a stronger colour that they should have been playing because the stronger colour meant running one or two weak cards.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Do you have a solid creature count? Do you have bombs? Do you have removal? Can you get to them? That’s what you should be focusing on. Just because you may have to run a weak card in a strong colour doesn’t mean you have a bad deck. It just means you have a weaker card in a stronger deck. Here’s the secret: Everyone has weaker cards in their decks. It’s the nature of the format.
Next week we’ll take a look at a Shadows Over Innistrad Sealed pool together. We’ll see if we can apply some of these strategies to that pool. If you have any question or comments, leave a comment in the Comments section below!
JP Vazquez – Optimum Jank
Crack a Pack with Bruce 23. 4th Fate Reforged
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Hard to believe that Fate Reforged will soon be paired with Dragons of Tarkir and we will be saying goodbye to Khans of Tarkir for draft purposes. In the mean time, let’s open up another pack and see what we would take in a draft pick 1, pack1. Here we go!
Where to start? There are some very solid cards in the pack, so let’s start with our Rare. Mardu Strike Leader is a super sweet little addition to the collection of Black/White warriors. A 3/2 for 3 mana that gets a 2/1 warrior whenever it attacks? If this gets left unchecked this is a menace because that 2/1 warrior is a full card. The token trades with Morphs and most 2 drops in the format, meanwhile the Strike Leader is taking sizable chunks out of your opponent. If you can slot him into that B/W warriors deck he is an all-star, but even on his own he’s very useful and well worth the pick up. I would be pulling him to the front of my pack as an early favorite for our first pick.
Mistfire Adept is another pretty sweet card. This is essentially a Hill Giant on the Vanilla Test…and that’s just fine. However, you want this guy for his Prowess ability and the ability to make something fly. Essentially, in a Prowess build, this guy can act like a 4/4 flier (or better) and really cause havoc. He’d be pulled forward because I really like the Jeskai/Prowess deck, but I’m not sure he’s better than the Strike Leader. He takes a few more pieces in order for him to really shine while the Strike Leader is just good all the time.
Fruit of the First Tree is not a first pick. The set up is far too high on it, it doesn’t impact the board nearly well enough, and really isn’t what I want to do with my deck. NOW, in a janky brew…sure…I’ll play this, but in a draft this would be a long way down my list. I’ll save this to the end and see if one of the other players around the table wants to play it.
Marang River Prowler is card I like very much. His ability to keep coming back and to be unblockable is really solid. Sure, he’s only a 2/1, but that puts your opponent on a clock that if they can’t finish you off then the Prowler is going to slowly get the job done. If you can add on a little augmentation, like maybe a +1/+1 counter from a Bolster trigger, that clock just gets that much quicker AND you don’t really feel bad if it dies because it comeing straight back. There are decks that don’t really want him, but he’s quite strong and more often than not he’s a solid addition. I don’t think he’s a first pick, but he is a solid card and will usually make the cut in most deck lists.
Sandsteppe Outcast is something I’d be grabbing quite readily. Quite literally he’s the best common in this pack and plays into that B/W warrior deck. Pair this with Harsh Sustenance and you immediately have some terrific interactions. He’d be up to the front on the pack as well, but I think the Strike Leader is still better.
Mardu Runemark is not something I want. I don’t like the Runemarks and it sets you up to lose 2 cards for 1 with a simple removal spell. The Jeskai Runemark is really the only one of this cycle I like (which is in this pack too) but the Mardu Runemark doesn’t offer me enough except being two for oned. I’ll pass.
Hunt the Weak is not a first pick, or even in the top five cards in this pack, but it always seems to do good work. I won’t turn it down if I’m in Green. Nothing brings a bigger smile to my face than playing a Morph on turn 3 and then turn 4 fighting their Morph with Hunt the Weak and winning combat. That feels really good. This is a solid mid-round pick up.
Smoldering Efreet is for those Red aggro decks. I’m not a big fan, but I can see that it has its place. I would be prioritizing this pretty late once I start to get a bit of sense where my deck is going, but it isn’t usually my play style. I would let this go and wouldn’t think twice about it.
Douse in Gloom, however, is exactly what I want. Inexpensive removal that just gets the job done. This would be a fairly early mid-round pick up in my eyes.
Abzan Skycaptain is something I rather like as well. The fact that it Bolsters when it dies is pretty nice and makes your opponent decide if it would rather just let it connect, or kill it and run the risk of the extra +2/+2 landing somewhere that isn’t pretty. At 4 mana he’s a tad on the steep side for a 2/2 body, but I think there is enough upside that I won’t mind running him. Likelihood is that this would be an early mid-round pick up for me.
Sultai Emissary is a very reasonable 2 drop that feels like it gives you a 2 for 1 because it replaces itself when it dies. That extra Manifested creature can be very useful. I’m not crazy for it, but I would be very interested in seeing it in the mid-round. Maybe if I’m lucky it will wheel and I’ll get a second shot at it.
Lotus Path Djinn is just a reasonable dude. You aren’t crazy excited to see him, but you aren’t sad either. He flies which is always nice, but otherwise there isn’t much to say. He’s just another serviceable body to run in your Prowess deck.
Harsh Sustenance is just fine, but it isn’t an early pick because it is 2 colours. Once I have established that I’m playing Black and White I would consider this because it plays really nicely with some of the other cards in this pack (if I can get them). Mardu Strike Leader, Sandsteppe Outcast and even the Sultai Emissary work well with this card and can make for a big turn. However, to take this early and over commit to a pair of colours could strand this in your sideboard and have it never really see play or leave your deck weak and floundering.
First pick is pretty clearly the Mardu Strike Leader. I like the Adept and the Outcast, but I would rather have the Strike Leader by virtue of the extra beefy tokens it can produce. If it goes unchecked it can quite easily take over the game. I’m sad that it isn’t a 3/3 because 2 toughness means it dies to lots of things, but a little augmentation and this is just going to be menace. I would be slamming this first pick and then really looking to see if the Douse in Gloom, Sultai Emissary or even the Abzan Skycaptain don’t wheel to give me a shot at the B/W deck as I head into the Khans pack. At least, that’s the theory. Sometimes you can’t get stuck on that flashy rare and if Black dries up I would be pretty prepared to hop colours to something that is more available.
Well, there we have it folks. Thanks for taking the time to stop in have a read here at Casual Encounters and Three Kings Loot. Feel free to drop me a line below or hit me up on Twitter. Have yourself a great MTG day!
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Welcome back! Another busy MTG day for all you readers out there so let’s not waste any time. Let’s crack open that pack and see what we would take pick 1 pack 1 in a draft. Here we go.
Let’s start with the Rare. Flamerush Rider is pretty solid and from a quick look around, it looks like the strongest card in this pack. I’m not in love with the card and by no means am I in love with Red in this set, but it is a strong card that makes combat very difficult for your opponent. I would certainly be pulling this one to the front of the pack and seriously looking at this first.
The uncommons are all a little underwhelming. Fearsome Awakening is interesting, but by no means good. It is certainly not good enough to first pick. I might look at that once I have a dragon or two in my deck just to see if I can make it work for me, but otherwise I might just leave this one to wheel around the table until the very end.
Reality Shift is a decent card and can be a useful removal type spell in Blue, but I’m not keen on leaving behind the Manifested creature. That extra 2/2 could be just about anything and that’s usually an unpleasant surprise when it is something that is good for your opponent. Also, it doesn’t really clear the road the way most removal does and you still need to work around the Manifest on the battlefield as you rumble in for combat. I wouldn’t be grabbing this first, but I’m interested in the card and figure it could be pretty interesting to take if I’m in Blue later in the round.
Humble Defector is another interesting card that can be abused pretty easily. There are a number of cute plays you can make with this guy to abuse the activation followed by the loss of control of the card, but it isn’t a first pick. I like a good laugh when you get to go off with this one, but I would rather do something a little more powerful than this.
The only real card that I like from among the commons here is Aven Surveyor. Yes, he’s expensive, but the bounce effect is extremely potent and well worth the cost of playing this one. I’d be pulling this one to the front for a close look as well.
Typhoid Rats are nice. I like those guys. I wouldn’t take them first pick, but if I was to be in black 2 or 3 picks in I would happily grab them.
Cunning Strike does a number of things, but it does them all modestly well. It deals some damage, but maybe not enough to kill something. It “shocks” your opponent for a pair of damage which may be relevant. It draws you a card to replace itself. All of this for the bargain cost of 5 mana. I know, I know. That’s 3 effects for 5 mana. That’s not so bad. And it even triggers Prowess. But I’m not in love with the card and would rather keep moving.
Frontier Mastodon could be a 4/3 for 3 mana…which is a steal. That’s a sizeable upgrade in toughness on an Alpine Grizzly because now it doesn’t die to Cunning Strike, Douse in Gloom, Wild Slash or one of the other many two damage spells floating around. However, it could just as easily be a 3/2 for 3 in which case you are highly underwhelmed. This is likely a late pick up and might not make the cut for you 22 or 23 card deck.
Alesha’s Vanguard is a card I’ve discussed earlier in my review of commons and uncommons, but to sum up it is a Hill Giant that dodges sorcery speed removal but burdens your board state if you choose to Dash it because you will have not developed your board any further. It’s a fine card, but I’m not excited.
Gore Swine is another fine vanilla creature. It’s not an early pick up, but it’s fine to help fill out your creature package.
Abzan Advantage is card that people keep talking about as a playable trick. I’m not excited, but the ability to remove their Siege AND Bolster one of my creatures seems good. Even if they don’t have an enchantment to sacrifice, the Bolster is quite nice. It’s by no means a first pick, but it has improved its chances of being played in recent weeks by just being an effective card that has some reasonable upside.
Arashin Cleric is very low on my list of priorities here. It just doesn’t do enough to warrant a mid round pick. This might get forced at the end of the pack and will rarely make your deck unless your creature count is very low.
Sibsig Host is another reasonable creature, but I’m not jumping up and down for it. It does block reasonably well and helps fuel a little Delve, but let’s not go overboard here. It is a fine card for a deck playing Black but it is not a high pick.
For me the first pick is Flamerush Rider because I feel like it has more upside and a higher overall power level than the rest of the pack. I’m not in love with red and if the following packs didn’t have strong commons/uncommons to support the Flamerush Rider I am more than prepared to move colours and ditch the Rider altogether. I could make a really good case for the Aven Surveyor because it is an outstanding common and if you grab a couple of them then you are well and truly set to make life miserable for your opponent. Typhoid Rats is just a very solid creature because nobody is really keen to trade with it. The Rats just about always manage to get you good value by taking out a more expensive creature and that means I want to grab it sooner rather than later. Further down the list I get to the 5th card and I am unsure if I would rather take the Humble Defector or Cunning Strike. I decided the Humble Defector was likely the pick on the grounds that it is a mono-coloured card rather than a gold card like Cunning Strike.
On the whole, the strength of this pack is pretty weak. The rare is just ok, the uncommons are not particularly good, and the commons start off quite strong but trail off quite significantly. I feel like that is one of the traits of the set and this represents a fairly average pack. I’ve tried enough drafts on MTGO and watched enough other people draft that this seems to be the trend. It is good to know for those rare times that you find a bonkers pack to keep it in mind that this is not the norm.
Thanks for taking the time to stop in and read today and good luck in your next draft.
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Good morning and thanks for stopping by here at The Bag of Loot and my Casual Encounters column. For those who are new here, I will be cracking a pack of Fate Reforged and looking at what I would select first if this was Pick 1, Pack1 in my next draft. Let’s take a look at what I’ve got.
Fate Reforged seems a little more heavy with bombs than Khans was, so let’s start with the rare. Yasova Dragonclaw is a pretty strong starting place. She’s efficient to cast as a 4/2 for 3 mana and comes with Trample making her pretty solid from the outset. She triggers Ferocious if that matters to your deck as well, which is always a benefit. However, I get most of those same stats with an Alpine Grizzly so what makes her so appealing? Her ability to effectively Act of Treason one of their blockers each turn is actually really difficult to handle. Even if the creature you’re pulling aside isn’t a huge bomb, it can really upset combat math to pull aside their blocker and then swing in. The only catch is that she can only target a creature with power less than hers. That may or may not be ideal because you might only be pulling aside a Wetland Sambar or an Ainok Tracker. If you can find a way to Bolster her or to augment her to steal something larger then you might find things will get a little out of control. I’ve played against one in a match and while her ability is kind of tricky, it certainly is beatable. However, she’s still a very powerful card and would be pulled straight to the front of the pack for some careful consideration.
Mistfire Adept is a very nice uncommon and has some solid stats. The basic body is that of Hill Giant, which is quite reasonable. However, the Prowess and the ability to grant something Flying is the real perk here. You cast a spell and suddenly you have a 4/4 flier. That’s nothing to take lightly. There’s not really a whole lot of downside here because this is a useful to just about any deck playing Blue and would be getting a long hard look as well.
Renowned Weaponsmith is underwhelming in every regard. The artifact theme is not strong enough to warrant this guy, and the ability to tutor up a bad artifact is also not overly relevant. His base stats are a little on the poor side as well because he gets quickly outclassed. Sadly, this guy isn’t very good and will likely a late pickup for filler to someone in Blue.
Hewed Stone Retainers feels like a downgraded version of Illusory Angel. If this had Flying, or First Strike, or anything really, you’d consider playing it, but at a vanilla 4/4 the answer is probably not. Don’t get fooled by the casting cost, the fact that you need to cast this as the second spell this turn increases the cost of this and unless you have a deck with some cheap spells to fire off this might get stranded in your hand for a while.
Write into Being is a card I quite like. One of the concerns I have with the Manifest mechanic is that I often feel like I don’t have much control over what gets manifested. It might be that land I really need, or that super efficient removal spell, or that hyper expensive creature that I was really hoping to find in the late game. In all of these of situations having the card get Manifested is less than ideal. Write into Being gives you some measure of control over what spell you end up getting and that is very useful. The casting cost puts it right on curve with other Morphs and the fact that is a non creature spell helps provide you with fuel for Delve spells and triggers Prowess. While this is a long way from being a home run it is a deceptively powerful card and is ultimately very useful.
Temur Runemark is NOT something I like. Most auras are a surefire way to get yourself in a situation where you lose out in a 2 for 1 situation. Unless the Aura is really powerful, it is usually a better idea to play cards that stand on their own merit. I’m not going to say I won’t play an Aura, but I’m certainly not looking to play those auras unless I’m pretty desperate.
Collateral Damage is a card that I like in certain decks, but is usually not something I’m too keen to grab. I never like sacrificing MY board state to deal damage, so sequencing this spell just right to have maximum impact is tricky and pretty important. If I can’t find a way to sacrifice something that is being blocked (and dying anyway) to take out something else I’m just not overly keen to play this. The ONLY other way I play this if I have a tokens strategy where I can use the tokens as fodder, but even there I’m not going crazy with this card. This a tricky card and something that certainly has a benefit when played correctly, but not always available in the optimal way.
Whisperer of the Wilds was in last week’s pack too and I’m still a fan. I’d be flipping this to the front of the pack, but likely won’t be first picking this at this point.
Sultai Runemark. Please see my notes on Temur Runemark up above. They are essentially identical for this card.
Gurmag Angler is the sort of aggressive mid-round pickup you just love to see. The big body on this one is very appealing and the fact that the casting cost can be significantly reduced with Delve makes this very appealing. I don’t think I really want to first pick this because if you are in on the Delve plan you have a limited number of cards slots that can be devoted to delve cards and this guy may not be the best way to go. However, he is a very nice early pickup and a big body to sure up the board.
Rakshasa’s Disdain. No. This is very poor conditional counter magic and not worth the card slot. Go and grab a Cancel before you play this and hard counter that spell.
Typhoid Rats are one of those common cards that you always overlook, but it always makes your deck. Nobody likes attacking into or blocking a 1/1 deathtoucher and the rats just do some much work. It isn’t a first pick, but it certainly is a good mid-round pick.
Grim Contest is interesting because it is an unusual take on the “fight” mechanic that green usually gets for removal. The part I like about this is that it is at Instant speed meaning that you can use it on your opponent’s turn and leaving you to do whatever you like with your mana on your turn. Sadly, it is a gold card and fits into fewer decks, but if you have Green and Black in your deck I see no good reason not to take this mid-round and see if you can make it work for you. This would have been ideal in M15 Limited with Rotfeaster Maggot, but that is a digression. This is an interesting spell and something that will garner mild interest, but is in no way a first pick.
While a number of the cards in this pack are pretty interesting, there is no doubt that I would be taking Yasova from this pack with my first pick. I feel like Green leaves you open to go into some very powerful combinations by making Abzan, Sultai and Temur all available and her raw stats are very solid. Her two toughness is an issue because she dies readily to Wild Slash , Douse in Gloom and Debilitating Injury but there is plenty of upside to her because her repeatable “Act of Treason” is quite powerful and will really mess with combat. I don’t think she’s an insane bomb the way some of the Legendary Dragons are, but she’s very good and a cut above the other cards in this pack.
Thanks for stopping in today here at Casual Encounters and taking the time read. I hope you guys have an awesome MTG day!
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter
By Roy Anderson – Sockymans
Hello my fellow looters! It’s Sockymans here with this week’s article, or should I say, articles. That’s right, this week is a two part series (As you probably saw from the title) about my adventures at Grand Prix San Jose. Now, I was only there for two days, Saturday and Sunday, so the article today will be about the first day of the main event.
To start off, man was I excited to see a Grand Prix so close to home. I was even more excited to see that the main event format was Team Sealed. To add even more excitement it was just a week after a new set release, therefore, it had a very new format! Now before I go into the actual day, I want to clarify some things people may not know.
So Team Sealed, what is it? It is a format you don’t see too often but if you have two friends that are also into Magic, I would highly recommend it. It works similar to regular sealed except you are on a team of three people. You start, just like in sealed, cracking your packs and building a deck. However, in Team Sealed, you have 12 packs between the three of you to build three decks. This gives you more options in each color, however, you must be able to figure out which team member gets which card. I will talk more about this when I describe my team’s pool. Another thing I want to note is that you must have every card in the sideboard of a certain player. You cannot have cards flowing between players sideboards so that is an important thing to decided as well. So when decks are built and round one starts, you are sat opposite another team. The way it works from there is each person plays against the person sitting opposite from them and whichever team has two of their members win their match, wins the round. During the games you are allowed to talk to your team and get advice about: plays, hands, and even sideboard options. If you make day two, after another Team Sealed round, you get to play team draft which is a whole other can of worms. Well, let us get to the meat and potatoes of the article!
Starting this story on a good note, we got to wake up at 6:30am. Now continuing this story with less sarcasm, we got there early very anxious for the event to start. There was a huge turnout for the main event which made competition fierce. In order to make day two, a team would need to not lose more than two rounds in a nine round tournament. My friends, John, Andy, and I, knew that would be tough but we were pumped and ready to go.
So they announced the start and we sat down. For those who have never played at competitive level before, there is a step before you just crack packs and build decks. You first open a pool of cards and register every single one. Only after this is done, you pass your pool to someone else. This ended up being a good thing this time around as the pool we had to register was utter garbage. There were no strong archetypes, no strong reason to play any colors, no bombs, nothing. Bullet dodged. So we finally finish all of the boring stuff and we get our real pool. Our pool was much better. Lots of strong Fate Reforged, FRF, and Khans of Tarkir, KTK, cards with good pulls to multiple different archetypes. After some deliberation with my comrades we all settled on decks that were good and the decks we wanted to play. The end result was a very strong Abzan deck, a Sultai Control deck, and a mediocre R/W Aggro deck. We figured this divide of cards was decent at the time and we all were happy with the archetypes we had. I ended up with a personal favorite of mine, Sultai Control.
I won’t leave you hanging on the details, so here is the list I decided to run:
Abomination of Gudul – This creature was never too relevant for me and I think in FRF/KTK it is actually a bit worse. That being said, it was always a morph in the worst match-up and it did cycle through my deck quite a few times in the longer games
Pear Lake Ancient – This is just a very powerful game ending card. It only came out of my deck in extreme situations when my opponent’s deck was super fast. Even in the aggro matchup, it was good as a flash blocker.
Debilitating Injury – Super solid early game removal. Even in FRF/KTK this remains an all-star.
Disowned Ancestor – This was mostly used to muck up the ground and keep me alive until I dropped Torrent Elemental or Pear Lake Ancient. I took this card out in control matches, however, I was not sad with this in the main deck.
Sultai Scavenger – A very solid mid-game flier. It was useful at getting past defenses. It was even a way to get Torrent Elemental into exile to use his ability. 10/10 would play again.
Archer’s Parapet – Same reasoning as Disowned Ancestor but I would have much rather had two of these. This never got boarded out as it is a supper good card.
Longshot Squad – This was in because I needed creatures, it was a Hill Giant with upside. I can’t complain about that.
Scout The Borders – Delve fuel, enough said.
Sultai Flayer – This was another all-star in my deck. The life gain was always very relevant and he has a nice body in the format. He definitely lifts bro.
Aven Surveyor – This card I was still on the fence on. Some games I was super impressed and others I was not so happy having him. First off, he was two blue which hurt in a three color deck with little fixing. My other concern was his body for his mana cost. Even if you didn’t need the bounce, which was never the case, he still died to every piece of removal and couldn’t trade with other fliers.
Enhanced Awareness – Can you hate anything with draw a card? It never seemed to end up in my hand when I needed it though. I kind of wish I had a treasure cruise along with this card.
Torrent Elemental – This card is bonkers. Using quadrant theory, this card was never bad at any point in the game. When you are ahead he wins the game almost immediately. When at parody he wins almost immediately, during setup he doesn’t serve much purpose but when behind he is even a flying blocker with a big butt.
Whisk Away – This was a card that was just okay in all my matches. I cast it and was reasonably happy with the results when I did. It was not a removal spell but it was quite the tempo swing.
Douse In Gloom – This card was awesome. I wrote about it quite a bit in my FRF pre-release article so I won’t cover it too much here. The only thing I want to say is that my opinion has not changed about this card. I am happy it exists.
Gurmag Angler – This is a new addition to the delve family and I think it is a pretty good one. It is had a huge body that not many other creatures can tangle with. It is also out of removal range for most of the removal spells in this format too unless your opponent is white. This guy also was a very common two for one as they would chump and use a removal spell.
Reach of Shadows – This card I was always happy with. Five mana, kill something other than morphs or manifests. Since the format is slower in general than formats in the past, five mana is very achievable to kill a big threat.
Rotting Mastodon – This should not have been in my deck. I never liked it much in KTK and it got worse. It was boarded out every game for something.
Sultai Emissary – This card made me happy to have, especially in the aggro mirror match-up. It is pretty much the black Jeskai Sage except he is card advantage with a card on the board. You are not even unhappy when you manifest a land. In my deck I ran 18 lands which meant if I could turn one into a creature and trade I was happy as a red player with a Lightning Bolt.
Whisperer of the Wilds – Since I had many five to seven drops this helped me ramp just a little bit. It was a bread and butter card. I was never happy with it but never sad.
Wildcall – This card I was unhappy with at the prerelease. Boy was I wrong. This is a very good card for any matchup. At the very worst it is two green for a 2/2 with possible upside. In most games, this card was the most flexible in my deck. On average it made a four to six power creature that would become the biggest threat on the board. Sometimes, it would just manifest a land and I would be 100 percent happy with a six power land.
There you have it, my GP SJ main event deck. Neither of my team mates were using blue so I got a lot of very powerful spells. I also had a good amount of very relevant sideboard choices against different matchups. Against aggro I could side in an extra Sultai Emissary, Despise, Force Away, and a few other low drops. Against a mid-ranged strategy, I would side in Disdainful Stroke, Despise, Tasigur’s Cruelty and a few other relevant creatures. Finally, against control, I would switch to a game of fighting for resources. I would take out some low cost removal and side in Disdainful Stroke, and Tasigur’s Cruelty. Now that our decks were completed, it was time to do what we came to do, play Magic and chew bubblegum! (You know the rest.)
This round was the first of the tournament. My teammates and I, unofficially named “The Ainok Bond-kins,” were ready to start on a good foot. My first round match was the mirror match and I felt pretty confident that I could win with my good resource advantage cards. Torrent Elemental helped pick me up a quick game one and I was feeling great. Andy was also winning his match. John, not so much, however, I was still happy. Game two I was not so fortunate. I ended up losing to flooding a bit and my opponent resolving a Treasure Cruise and slowly beating me out of the game. No big deal, I am on the play for game three. I look to see how my team is doing and they are both done. Turns out, we are one and one so this game three was the deciding game. The pressure was on.
Game three was a very long game. Lots of trades, draw spells, and board stalls. Finally, a line of play opened up that started to tip the scales in my favor. I resolved a Tasigur’s Cruelty delving away my Torrent Elemental. I was able to cast it tapped and I put my opponent in top deck mode. Turns out he didn’t draw anything but an Gurmag Angler. This turned out not to matter as I quickly untapped and started crashing in. Turned out that ended up winning me the game! My day was off to a good start.
So, I don’t know if any of you here recognize the name, but my second round opponent was none other than Day9 and his friends Case and Tristan. First of all, it was awesome to be able to talk to him and he was a super nice guy, however, I was playing Case. So there is not much to talk about this round as there was one card that won every game that it came out. This resulted in my losing 1-2 which was a bummer. The card I speak of is Ojutai, Soul of Winter. This card is expensive, however, against a deck like mine, that was not a big problem. Had Case been playing my friend John, he may have won with his very aggressive deck. The two cards I had that could deal with that card was my two copies of Reach of Shadows. I also boarded in a Disdainful Stroke when I first saw the card. Unfortunately, game three, he played a Frontier Siege which, for a dragon deck, was pretty good. I never saw it so I was unable to board against it. Sadly, despite Andy winning. John lost another match and we were now 1-1.
After pulling ourselves together, we went to face our next opponents. This time I was against my worst matchup: Aggro. This is when I also want to point out what I think the red MVP card in FRF is and that is: Goblin Heelcutter. This card wreaked havoc on my deck. I lost the first game and thanks to some good sideboard options and a good draw, I made it to game three. Sadly, he curved out really well despite a Debilitating Injury in my opening hand. Andy, who is a boss, was now 3-0 and our team was 1-2. John was getting creamed in mirror matches for the first three rounds.
This was it, if we lose here, we have no chance of making day two. The record you needed to get to day two was at least 7-2. If we wanted that record, it would be a long rest of the day. We sit down against our next round opponents and they were also on the block. They seemed to be having a lot of fun and it was a fun match overall. It was another mirror match and this time, I knew how to board better. I was learning the matchups and changing my deck more and more each game. I boarded in both Tasigur’s Cruelties and Disdainful Stroke after winning game one. I lost game two and I knew I had to win in order to carry the team. I looked to my teammates and, to my surprise, they had won. Yay! We had hung on for at least one more round.
Another mirror match? At this point, I felt like my deck was advantaged in the mirror. I had a Pearl Lake Ancient, a good curve, good removal, and lots of ways to generate card advantage. This time, for the first time in the tournament, it was an easy 2-0. I looked over at Andy and finally, he dropped a game. I was worried as John’s deck was disadvantaged in yet another mirror. However, he had won his best of three and we were on to yet another match!. Awesome! 3-2
I will be 100 % honest, I don’t even remember this round as the next one was so intense. The important part is we won yet again. We were all starting to realize that the dream was real for us! We were crawling back from a 1-2 record to end up sitting pretty at 4-2. We only had three rounds to go. Let’s move on.
At this point in the tournament, it was getting intense. Side events were closed down and everyone had been there for so long and come so far. We sat down against some very nice foreign players who made some great conversation. My matchup this time around was another aggro deck, which I dreaded seeing. This was different from other aggro decks I had faced. It was mostly red Mardu and boy was it fast. Game one I was obliterated despite having a removal heavy hand. Alright, on to game two. I made some needed side boarding and moved into game two. Notably, I brought in Despise and Tasigur’s Cruelty in order to kill dash cards. I also brought in my second Sultai Emissary which was good against his 3/1s and 4/1s. Through some good managing of resources and a timely Pearl Lake Ancient, I took game two. Sadly, my opponent came out of the gate swinging on turn two. Even with the removal in my hand, nothing prepared me for being hit by Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury. Luckly, I was able to kill it and his other dash with Tasigur’s Cruelty, however, it was too late. I lost. As it turns out, both my allies bit the dust as well. Our dream had died.
All in all, we had a lot of fun at the GP San Jose main event. If you ever have a chance to play in any GP, I would highly recommend it.
I will have another article up later this week detailing my day two GP report. I hope you enjoyed this article. Let me know what you think and, if you were there, let me know what your record was and what you played.
For now, Happy Planeswalking!
By Roy Anderson
@Sockymans on Twitter
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Well, welcome back to our continuing Crack a pack MTG Series here at Casual Encounters and Three Kings Loot. I’m very happy to say that this is crack a pack number 20 for me! I can’t believe that I’ve got to 20. It seems like not all that long ago I was pitching the series to the guys at Three Kings Loot. The goal for 2015 is to continue writing these and hopefully build up some more readers who are keen to get into a discussion about the cards and the selections. So, let’s see what we’ve got on deck for today!
Today we’ll be opening a shiny new pack of Fate Reforged. Remember, as Fate Reforged enters the draft environment we are now drafting one pack of Fate and 2 packs of Khans meaning you will still be pretty heavily Khans focused. That said, Fate Reforged dove tails pretty well with Khans so it should move pretty seamlessly. Here we go.
Oh boy…we just opened something pretty spicy in Crux of Fate. People have been calling for a re-print of Damnation for a long time and this may be as close as we ever get. This is an awesome mass removal spell in Black, something that doesn’t come along in every set. The fact that this is modal could be relevant in Draft if you have a couple of the uncommon dragons on board and need a way to punch them through, but you will mostly look at this as premium mass removal that you will grab first almost each and every time.
Valorous Stance is a tremendously versatile card and both modes are very relevant. It is extremely efficiently costed at 2 manaand just does exactly what you need it to do every time. In most packs this would be first pickable, but today it’ll like slide to the 2nd pick in this pack.
Neutralizing Blast is a very underwhelming counter spell. The fact that it only targets multi-coloured spells is a huge issue because the number of such spells is quite low. Think about it, there were some in Khans, but many of those were Morph creatures (that aren’t multi-coloured if cast face down) and a cycle of uncommon spells like Ride Down. In Fate, there is once again a cycle of common spells and the cycle of Rare Dragons. That means that there aren’t a lot of relevant targets for this…so you’re likely just best to pass this and see if you grab it late as a sideboard option for the greedy 5 colour deck that the guy next to you is building.
Shifting Loyalties is a super powerful effect and could really turn the tide quickly as you trade you junky creature for their awesome one…but the variance on this is high. If they only have a Gore Swine do you really want to spend 6 mana and trade you Jeskai Sage for it? Likely not. So you have a dead card in hand. If you have a Jeskai Sage and they have Atarka…well…that’s different. I’d be careful with this one and wouldn’t prioritize it too highly because it could really backfire and just sit dead in your hand.
Sandteppe Outcast is a very useful 3 drop. 3 mana for a 2/1 creature and a 1/1 flier OR a 3/2 creature is nice versatility. I imagine the 1/1 flier is the most likely mode you’ll pick, but I could make a case that you really want the 3/2 if you have the Abzan Falconer or Abzan Battle Priest on board. Either way, this is very good and efficiently costed and could be a first pick if you were hard pressed.
Write Into Being is an interesting take on Manifest. It is a sorcery that only costs 2 and a Blue for a total of 3 mana. That is on par with Morphs…so that’s a perfectly acceptable casting cost for a 2/2. However, the fact that you get to look at the top two cards and pick which one gets Manifested is actually excellent value. You can essentially craft exactly which card you want turned over as a 2/2. That gives you a lot of control and could allow you to play some very fun head games with your opponent. Not a first pick, but a nice spell that likely goes in the early half of the round.
Fierce Invocation is another Manifest Sorcery. I like this one less, but it is still a 4/4 for 5 mana which isn’t bad…and if it is a creature…you’re in business. This is a mid-round pick up.
Douse in Gloom is Pharika’s Cure…just slightly more expensive. This is another early pick in this pack because it deals with everything from facedown creatures to Alpine Grizzly without any difficulty. This one isn’t flashy, but is the backbone of most limited decks.
Cunning Strike feels too expensive and just not good enough for 5 mana. At 5 mana I want to do something AWESOME…this just feels slow and awkward. Couple that with the fact that it is two colours and there is no doubt that this will table. I’d pass and only take this as a last resort.
Arashin Cleric…and the consensus is…NO. It doesn’t do enough. It can’t block Morphs and Manifested decks profitably, the life gain is fairly modest, and it gets outclassed quite quickly. No, don’t take this, you can do better.
Collateral Damage is a spell I really like. In a tokens strategy, or heck, just with that dumpy Arashin Cleric, sacrifice the creature for 1 red mana (at instant speed) for a Lightning Bolt. That seems fine to me. Not a crazy high pick, but very reasonable once you establish your colours as a mid-round pick up for some inexpensive removal/damage.
Gore Swine is just a 4/1 vanilla creature. I’m not going to dump on this creature because it can be quite serviceable, but if I have better options I’m taking those long before I take this. All that can be said for this thing is that at least it triggers Ferocious.
Bathe In Dragonfire is an excellent red removal spell. The 4 damage is very useful and deals with most threats. I’m not a fan of the Sorcery speed on this thing because it won’t catch Dash creatures, but you can’t expect too much from a common. For the record, this continuing the trend of seeing removal slowly become more and more expensive…so while this is pretty reasonable it likely would have been cheaper had it appeared in a set 3-5 years ago.
This is pretty much a no brainer…you grab Crux of Fate and move on. There really isn’t anything that would match up well with Crux, and if suggested anything else I would out right lying to you. So, while the other cards are pretty good…Crux is the hands down winner.
Wow…that was easy.
Well, thanks for reading folks and thanks for coming along for the ride to get to 20 Crack a Pack MTG. 20 may not seem like a lot to you guys, but let me assure it has been quite the trip. Let’s see if we can get to 30! Thanks for reading and until next time may you open nothing but Mythic rares.
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter