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
Last week, we took a look at Magic‘s Sealed Deck format and went over some basic techniques when constructing a Sealed deck. If you haven’t read last week’s article, a lot of what we’ll be talking about here has already been covered there in greater detail.
This week, as promised, we’ll be opening six Shadows Over Innistrad packs and constructing a Sealed deck using the techniques we learned last week. Without further ado, let’s crack these packs!
Diving Into Our Pool
Let us start by skipping right to our Rares and Mythics, because I know that’s what all of you are really interested in. Here’s a look at our loot:
Well, in terms of monetary value, opening three intro pack rares is financially underwhelming, but I believe Sorin, Grim Nemesis balances a lot of it out. Port Town is nice because real estate in Magic will always be worth something, and Brain in a Jar has been ticking upwards since SaffronOlive posted his Mono Blue Brain in a Jar Standard deck. We’re not looking at crazy value, but I’m not going to complain. In terms of running them in our deck, I’m a little nervous that four of these cards have double-coloured costs. This means splashing any of them might prove too difficult, so we better hope that we either find ourselves strongly in one particular colour or that our mana-fixing turns out to be fantastic.
It’s time to look at the meat and potatoes of what we’ve opened. Last week, I mentioned that the first thing you should do when tackling a Sealed pool is to separate your cards into their respective colours. Your next step should be to break down each colour into two different piles: your creatures and creature-producers into one pile and non-creature spells into another pile. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to immediately combine those two steps for this article.
Not fantastic. We only have six creatures or creature-producers here and an overabundance of combat tricks. Puncturing Light is a solid removal spell but unfortunately it is also our only removal spell. I absolutely love Gryff’s Boon and Tenacity but I don’t think either of those cards are strong enough to pull us into playing White. Pious Evangel is another personal favourite, but in no way would I consider him a bomb, nor a card that would pull me into White. In fact, I think our strongest White card is Sorin, Grim Nemesis, which is more accurately multicoloured. Hopefully our Black will be stronger to balance out this weak White pool if we decide to go WB. Alternatively, perhaps we can get away with simply splashing for Sorin? White may be very strong overall in SOI, but this pool of cards isn’t strong nor deep enough for us to commit to at this point.
Hopefully Blue will save us from catastrophe…
Hmm. Not particularly exciting, but not bad either. I feel like our Blue is going in two different directions: On one side, we have a bit of a control mill strategy buried in there. On the other side we have the foundation of an evasive aggro strategy through our creatures with Flying or Skulk. We have card draw with Catalog as well as a few ways to Investigate using cards such as Jace’s Scrutiny and Gone Missing. As I mentioned last week, prioritizing card draw helps us draw into our bombs. Unfortunately, our Blue is a little lacking in that department: Nothing here screams “game finishing bomb”. Perhaps we can use Blue in conjunction with another colour that has more powerful bombs? Gone Missing is another strike against Blue for me. While it nets us a Clue token, I’ve never been thrilled by this 5 mana sorcery Time Walk effect. It has underperformed for me whenever I’ve played it, so I’m not thrilled with the idea of running one, let alone running two. Overall, Blue has problems but it’s not terrible, so it’s definitely in contention.
Let’s move onto our Black.
HOLY COW. I’m in love with these Black cards. It has everything we want. It has creature recursion with Sanitarium Skeleton and Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice. Skeleton also works well with Markov Dreadknight, Sinister Concoction and Merciless Resolve, allowing us to either discard it or sacrifice it then bring it back to our hand to use it again later. Concoction and Murderous Compulsion provide fantastic removal and as a bonus even work well with each other! Furthermore, we’ve got a genuine bomb with Markov Dreadknight: An evasive creature that just gets bigger and synergizes with all of our Madness cards. Playing Black also gets us half way to playing Sorin, Grim Nemesis. Unsurprisingly, Sorin is extremely powerful in Limited and is absolutely what we’d like to be running if we can. This pool of Black cards may not be very deep – what we’ve got is most likely what we’re going to run in our deck – but what we’ve got packs a hell of a punch.
At this point, I’m highly favouring Black. Let’s see if Red rocks me.
Let’s get the negative out of the way first: we don’t have a lot of cards here to play with. The positive is that most of the cards that we do have are great. The removal in particular is fantastic. Dual Shot for early threats, Inner Struggle for late threats, Lightning Axe for whenever. Combined with our Black removal, we can remove all the things all the time. That being said, if we decide not to play Black, we’ve only got three non-creature spells here, which doesn’t give us much wiggle room. Devil’s Playground is always incredibly annoying to play against so running it here is a definite yes. As far as bombs go, though, it’s definitely on the lower end of the bomb curve. The two Breakneck Riders will be fantastic in any aggro strategy and Howlpack Wolf has over-performed every time I’ve played it. That being said, Insolent Neonate, our lackluster 2 drops and our three vanilla Hulking Devils as the only 4 drop creatures we have are all incredibly meh. Red feels like it simply can’t make up its mind if it wants to be awesome or awful.
One last colour to go. Drumroll, please!
Two drops for days. And good ones at that. The Veteran Cathar is backbreaking if we can find more Humans. Unfortunately, it requires us to be running White to activate its ability and our White pool wasn’t incredibly strong to begin with. We still might be able to pull it off if we can use Loam Dryad to splash. As far as bombs go, Soul Swallower is pretty solid and becomes an “absolutely must be dealt with creature” if we can activate Delirium… which might be a problem. Within Green, our only way to fuel Delirium looks like Vessel of Nascency. With three cards reliant on Delirium, we’ll have to pair Green with a colour that could help fuel our graveyard, which would most likely mean pairing it with either Blue or Black… or both. The most interesting thing to note here is our abundance of creatures with higher toughness at each point of the curve, including our 3-of vanilla five drops. Apparently, our pool loves vanilla creature (a term used for creatures with no additional abilities). Unlike the Hulking Devils, I’m much more positive on running the Thornhide Wolves. They’re perfectly fine top end cards that easily stonewall most other creatures when played on the defence. Once again, like Red, the biggest drawback to running Green is its lack of non-creature spells and especially its complete lack of interaction and/or removal.
Let’s wrap this up with our multicoloured cards, artifacts and lands.
We’ve got three Rares/Mythics in this group, but it’s only Sorin that’s standing out as something we should absolutely try to run. Since our Black looked particularly strong, Sorin is tempting me toward running him no matter what, even if we have to splash the off colour White just for him. With our weaker number of non-creature spells throughout our pool, Brain in a Jar doesn’t really look fantastic here. What I do like, however, are the Magnifying Glasses. They’re not overtly powerful but I have seen them run away with games in a number of control decks. If we end up in a more control, less aggro type of deck, I definitely think we should try running at least one.
Our lands might help us ever so slightly with fixing. We’ll end up knowing more once we start finalizing our deck, but for now, I’m going to remain optimistic that Port Town will come in handy. If we end up in UB, Port Town will definitely help us with our Sorin splash.
It looks like we’ve opened quite a challenging pool to navigate! Next week, we’ll take a look at the different colour combinations and see which ones look strongest. Until then, I’m very curious to hear from you: Which colours would you go into? What do you think you would build from this pool? Did you see something that I might have missed in my card evaluations? Let me know in the Comments section below! Don’t forget to be here next week to see what we end up building in our final installment!
JP Vazquez – Optimum Jank
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
Ah, the prerelease. The first time we get to play with those shiny new cards. It’s also one of the few times of the year that we get to play Sealed deck (which may or may not be an exciting prospect, depending on your tastes.) Eh, whatever––just hope for a bomb.
If you’ve never been to a prerelease before or just want a refresher, here are some quick tips, tricks, and suggestions for having a good time!
You’ve probably already checked out the spoiler, but it never hurts to go a little deeper. Consider the strengths of the colors, the possible synergies, the cards you’d be thrilled to open and the cards you’d rather not see. For instance, if you made a vampire deck, it might help to consider a hypothetical ratio of discard enablers to madness spells. This helps for faster and better deck construction.
Sealed deck, more so than draft, is a bomb driven format. A bomb is basically a card that, if unanswered, will win you the game by itself. Think Archangel Avacyn, Arlinn Kord, Sigarda, Heron’s Grace–those kinds of cards.
A word of warning: don’t be deceived by rarity. Despite the above examples, a rare (or even a mythic rare) does not a bomb make. Altered Ego is a great example. Sure, it’s a big, splashy spell with a unique effect, and it’s rare. But is it the kind of card that’s going to win you the game all by itself? Eh, probably not.
I see a lot of new players showing up for prereleases, which is outstanding. I think it’s because prereleases are generally a little less intimidating than, say, Modern tournaments. People are usually pretty laid back about the whole thing.
That said, I still see experienced players being totally unforgiving at prereleases. They just roll the new players and then walk away.
Am I saying that you should let the new player win? No, absolutely not. You paid good money to play, so you absolutely have the right to play hard and win. Furthermore, if you let the inexperienced player win, they’re not really learning how to play and they’re not getting any better.
However, if you notice that your opponent made a huge mistake in games one and two, you can definitely try to give a little advice. A lot of new players will appreciate it. You can say something like, “Hey, I’ve found that this works pretty well,” or, “I tried doing this and I love it.” Sometimes it’s tough to give advice without sounding like a know-it-all, but it can make a huge difference.
Maybe this is just a pet peeve, but packaging always seems to gravitate toward the middle of the table, where it clumps and turns into a gigantic mess for the store owners to clean up. You might say, “Who cares? They can just throw it out.” And sure, they can. But remember that these people are giving you a place to play Magic every week, and that they work long hours for not a whole lot.
Do them a favor. Show your appreciation by walking to the trash can and throwing out the wrappers. It’s not that hard.
I think this one’s pretty self-explanatory. Magic is the best game there is––but it’s still just a game. Just go and have some fun. If you win, you win, and if you lose, you lose. The most important part is having a good time.
Have any amazing prerelease stories? Did you flip your Westvale Abbey into Ormendahl? Did you make a successful investigate deck? Did you kill someone with Triskaidekaphobia? Tell us your prerelease story in the comments below!
By Kyle A. Massa – Play the Ten Drop
You can reach Kyle at @mindofkyleam on Twitter or through his site www.kyleamassa.com
Welcome to the world of Magic: The Gathering. A world filled with nuanced heroes in troubled circumstances, interesting monsters that are often more than they appear to be, captivating worlds begging to be explored and fantastic spells that bend the reality of those worlds. Somewhere in that mix, there just happens to be a pretty fun card game to collect as well. Exciting, isn’t it?
Whatever the reasons may be that brought you to this game, there are always a number of questions that plague new, returning, or even experienced players. Whether it be about card evaluation, deck piloting strategy, or simply how to introduce the game to a new player, there’s no end to the number of queries this game can create.
Although there’s an endless amount of content by pro players much better at the game than I am to answer questions about critical meta-game strategies, there’s far less content out there for the more casual players. The ones trying to figure out if now is the best time to come back to the game after a long hiatus. The ones who have no idea what to do with all the draft cards they’ve amassed. The ones who want to introduce the game to their friends but aren’t sure how best to present it to them. The ones who like to bring their silly combo deck to Friday Night Magic. If this sounds like you or one of your friends, I have a feeling we’ll get along swimmingly.
Getting started (or re-started) with Magic can be a daunting and/or overwhelming experience. There are a lot of rules. There are a lot of experienced players. But most of all, there are a lot of cards. The sheer number of cards alone can often astound newer players. Some of the most frequently asked questions I get when explaining the game to prospective players are: “How do you remember what all the cards do? Did you have to study them all? Does every player know what all these cards do?”
Here’s a little secret: Most players don’t know what every card does. Certainly, there are players who do know a large percentage of the cards, but most don’t know every single card printed in the history of the game. A large majority of the time, you’ll only need to know a handful of cards at a time (depending on which format(s) you’re currently playing) to follow along. The longer you play, the more time you’ll spend talking about cards. After a while, you’ll notice that you’ll hear about particular cards more than others. Eventually, you start to learn based on this repetition. There’s no need to study the entire catalog of Magic cards before you start playing and there’s no need to memorize all the strategies, archetypes or lingo before you get going. All you need is a pack of cards and a buddy who’s willing to guide you through your first few games and you’re good to go.
Now that we’ve covered what you don’t need to do, the next question becomes: Which cards do I need to collect or need to know about in order to play? Technically, the answer to that could be any and all cards in the history of Magic as long as your deck meets the format’s minimum card requirement.
I can see you panicking again. Don’t worry, we can fix this too.
Magic‘s most popular format is something called “Casual Magic,” also known as “Kitchen Table Magic” because of the mental image that most casual players play around the kitchen table. When playing Casual Magic, all you need is a deck of cards and some buddies to play. The reason this is the most popular version is that it has the least rules and regulations. At this level of Magic, people are just reading the cards and playing the game as they see fit. There’s no banlists nor format requirements that allow certain cards and prevent others cards from being in your deck.
Inevitably, there will come a time when you might want to optimize your deck. Or challenge yourself by playing against more difficult or focused decks rather than the random cards you’ve thrown together for kitchen table games. Most players will recommend Friday Night Magic (FNM) events at their local game stores as the next logical step. While this may be a solid step for returning players who already have experience with the game, I’ve seen a number of new players get very nervous about Drafting or playing against expensive, finely tuned Constructed format decks.
Frequently overlooked by enfranchised players of the game, there are other options available to newer players which will allow them to step up a their game before venturing in the realm of FNM. A format I love recommending to newer players is what I call “Intro Pack Magic.”
Whenever a new Magic set is released, Wizards of the Coast (the folks who make the Magic cards) release “Intro Packs.” These are 60 card pre-constructed decks that (currently) come packaged with two booster packs. These decks and boosters predominantly contain cards from the current and/or immediately preceding set of cards. As an example, at the time of writing, the newest set released is Oath of the Gatewatch. Oath of the Gatewatch Intro Packs contain cards found in OGW (the abbreviation for Oath) and Battle for Zendikar (BFZ); the set that preceded OGW.
These decks are exactly what you would expect from something called an “Intro Pack;” they are a means to introduce a new player to the newest set and to Magic itself. These are not meant to be tournament competitive decks: They will be crushed by top tier decks if played against one. That being said, they’re usually solidly balanced to play against each other. If you can find a friend who’s interested in playing “Intro Pack Magic” with you, here’s how it’s done:
Why are we waiting to open them, you may ask? By playing with your deck straight out of the box, you’ll hopefully have developed an understanding of your Intro deck and what it’s trying to do. These booster packs will have a lot more meaning to you now. Not only do you get to see sweet new cards and hopefully open an expensive rare, you’ll be looking at all the cards through the filter of your Intro deck. You’ll start to evaluate which cards would work well with your deck, which cards might actively work against it and which cards might not have any importance either way. Perhaps you’ll find a card or two that you’ll want to add to your deck. Great! Try to take one card out of your deck for each card you add in. Replay your decks with your new cards and see how that goes. You can continue making modifications to your deck as you see fit.
By focusing on this smaller initial pool of cards, you’re already starting to develop and learn basic skills you’ll be needing as a burgeoning Magic player: You’re learning such concepts as card evaluation, deck construction, the management of limited resources and the ability to quickly learn new cards found in a particular Standard set.
Intro Pack Magic can be taken a step further within your playgroup if, at the end of every week, you each agree to buy a booster from the set your Intro Pack is from. Add the cards you like from your new booster to your deck. Over time, you’ll acquire more cards for your collection, have a uniquely tuned deck that you’ve played with friends in a non-competitive environment, and will develop skills needed if you do decide to make that leap to FNM Draft or Constructed.
I hope you enjoyed today’s column! The topic of how to start (or jump back into) Magic is one I often see pop up on Magic forums and websites, so I was excited to address it here. In future, we’ll be looking at various other ways to play Magic which will hopefully appeal to the Casual and Competitive alike. If you liked what you see here or have any questions, feel free to leave a comment in the Comments section below!
JP Vazquez – Optimum Jank
This is going to be the third and final crack a pack that I will be doing for Battle for Zendikar…at least for right now. Having taken a shot at a draft I really got a taste for the format. However, watching better players sink their teeth into the format has helped me solidify some of my thinking around many of the cards. There are so many things going on out there that I would like to try and touch on, so I’m going to do this pack and then take a little break from cracking packs and talk about a few of the other things going on in the Magic community in the weeks to come. So, let’s not waste any more time!
Let’s see what we’ve got this week.
Murk Strider is a pretty reasonable card if you want to play the Ingest/Processor deck or the R/U Devoid deck. However, a 3/2 for four mana is not an outstanding rate and the ability of bouncing a creature is just decent because the set-up cost is quite high. If this was a mana cheaper or a bit bigger this would be a much stronger critter, but it trades with most two drops and is largely replaceable. This would not be anywhere near the first pick and I would expect I can find this pretty easily very late in the pack.
Sludge Crawler is a more relevant threat. 1/1 for 1 is not usually that relevant because unless you land it on turn one they often get blanked by a 2/2 or better. However, this one can scale in the late game to trade more profitably by pumping. The Ingest is also relevant. It is still not a first pick, but I would look at it ahead of the Murk Strider.
Kor Castigator is a pretty relevant ally. A 3/1 for 2 mana is very aggressive and can pay you off handsomely if you are in the ally deck by coming down early and threatening plenty of damage if unchecked. Also, since it is an Ally it also is not a dud in the late game to trigger a pile of Rally triggers. The last piece of text is that it can’t be blocked by Scion tokens which is very relevant in many matchups. I’m still not taking this early because I would expect to find this quite readily later if I am in the Ally deck.
Reckless Cohort is not a first pick by any stretch. It is a reasonable 2 drop and can play a role in the R/W allies deck. However, a 2/2 for 2 and a questionable drawback hardly makes this guy exciting.
Cloud Manta is just a solid reliable flier. Nothing fancy here but it is usually a useful card and you won’t be sad to run it. This and Shadow Glider are just two relevant fliers, sort of like Wind Drake, that decks running Blue or White will gobble up and love to run. Not a first pick mind you, but something that is likely to get snapped up fairly quickly.
Sandstone Bridge is another of the utility lands this set packs and it’s pretty decent. This not a first pick because the land just isn’t good enough but it will often be the pick over many of the other playables because it just offers a little more flexibility. Nice card…but still no.
Tajuru Beastmaster is the first real card we’ve seen in this pack and even at that it likely isn’t a first pick. It’s a big curve topper in an ally deck or a deck looking to leverage the anthem-esque effect of this thing. It is clearly the best card we’ve seen to date in this pack but I would be very displeased if this ended up being first pick.
Demon’s Grasp is bad sorcery speed removal. You don’t really want spells like this if you can help it, but sometimes you need stuff like this. I wouldn’t seriously look at this for a first pick and in this pack many of the other just “playable”cards would win out over this. Sure, you might take it late, and you might even run it, but you don’t really want to if you can help it.
Skyline Cascade is just like the Sandstone Bridge. Decent card, not a first pick.
Eldrazi Skyspawner is the business. This is just a value creature and there is no other way around it. A 2/1 Flier and a 1/1 scion for three mana is very solid and stacks up with Sandsteppe Outcast or Ghirapur Gearcrafter from some of the other formats we have recently seen. This also goes in just about any deck playing blue and is pure value. Whether I select this over the Beastmaster is debatable, but I think I would be leaning towards this because this is quite a bit cheaper and easier to play, but I would need to really think about it.
Scythe Leopard is a 1 drop that I’d probably rather avoid. It is very good in a Constructed Landfall deck where it can consistently be cast on turn 1, but in Limited this doesn’t match up well in any other situation other than being cast on turn 1. Even with Landfall this gets outclassed by so many other creatures that it is hardly worth the pick. I like the leopard, but just not if I intend to win.
Grovetender Druids puts me in two colours and with a creature that is good, but not insane. I don’t think the payoff is big enough for me to jump into two colours right away, so I think I’ll pass on this and opt for one of the other cards in the pack.
Cryptic Cruiser is another payoff for ingesting. However, as a first pick I don’t think it makes sense. If you want to go into the Ingest/Processor decks you really ought to start with the Ingest cards and then try to find your payoff instead of grabbing the payoff and then finding the Ingest cards. Not all Ingest creatures are equal and you want to be sure you have some good ones before you start looking for the payoff.
Drowner of Hope looks like it should be the slam dunk pick. Six mana for a 5/5 are solid stats and it makes two 1/1 scions so in essence you are getting 7 power and toughness for your 6 mana. The ability to sacrifice a scion to tap down an opposing creature is also an important ability. However, if you take this you need to ask yourself what sort of deck lends itself to maximizing this sort of creature. At first glance this looks it should fit in a B/U sacrifice sort of deck where this and Zulaport Cutthroat are your big time payoffs. However, how many 1/1 scions are you getting to maximize the ability to tap down your opponent’s team? Blue makes a few and Black has a couple, but you aren’t really getting a ton of them so the idea of sacrificing a bunch of scions and then reaping the benefits as you drain your opponent out is fairly limited. On top of that, B/U usually wants to play the Ingest/Processor game and not token production. Green is the colour that makes a pile of tokens and is the situation where this could be really explosive. Can you imagine sacrificing a pile of tokens, tapping down their whole team and then crashing in for a ton of damage? Sounds appealing to me. But is U/G really a powerful thing? Maybe with the Converge deck, but that can be tricky. Drowner might also want to go in the U/R Devoid deck because that is also a relevant choice. With so many deck options it is hard to pick one solid deck that this goes in, but Drowner plays reasonably well in all of them and it leaves you very open to a number of strategies. Drowner of Hope seems to be big time game and looks like the front runner in this pack.
First pick is very handily the Drowner. It is strong all on its own and fits in a wide variety of decks meaning that our options going forward are pretty good. The real question becomes where do we go from there? There is almost no chance we’ll see the Sky Spawner come back around or the Sludge Crawler but you never know about a few of the other things in this pack. Even things on my top 5 list might make it back around depending on what other decks start to take shape around the table. As a result, it is very difficult to predict what might come back on the wheel and so our next couple of picks will be very important to help get us into a “lane” here and steer our future selections. The nice thing is that Drowner leaves us open and gives us lots of options and very sizeable top end to our curve that can help get us there.
Thanks very much for taking the time to stop in and read. BFZ is proving to be a very complex and difficult draft format. My own limited playing experience is proving to be a bit of an issue, but thank goodness that lots of other, more skilled, players are posting Draft vids all the time so I can see first hand what is getting picked and where.
Next time I’ll be back to brewing and I have a couple of budget decks that I’ve been working on that I’m ready to share with all of you. So, until next time take care of yourselves and have a great MTG day!
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter
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.
Complete Disregard is still a yes. I would pull this to the front of the pack, slightly ahead of Outnumber at this point based on the fact that I would rather play Black than Red in most situations.
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