Hello RoxieCards readers! Many of you do not know me, so I wanted to take a minute to introduce myself. My name is Alex Binek, and I have been “grinding” magic fairly actively for a little over a year now. This summer I experienced my greatest levels of success with my win at the WMCQ in St. Louis, a variety of cash finishes on the TCGPlayer.com circuit, and a Top 8 in Legacy at the Starcitygames.com Open in St. Louis. I have played at one Pro Tour and only recently began attending Grand Prix tournaments. I was thrilled when I was asked to write about my experiences and represent RoxieCards.com at the World Magic Cup at GenCon later this month.
For my first article relating to preparation for this event, I thought I would write about what I have learned so far about one of the M13 limited formats that we will be participating in – Booster Draft.
It is very rare for me to dedicate a considerable amount of time or thought to core set limited. So, dedicating as much time and money as I have towards M13 in preparation for the World Magic Cup has been a completely new thing for me. The biggest thing that I have to say is that the format is great. Wizards did a fantastic job making it simple enough for a beginning player to enjoy participating in while making it advanced enough for any player of the game to be able to go deep in strategy.
A lot of people have been writing that all of the colors are very balanced for draft, but I strongly disagree. I see Green and Black as the two “strong” colors, with White close behind. Red and Blue are very similar to each other in that they either take a very dedicated “archetype” approach to succeed or serve as support colors for the Green, Black, or White decks.
Green Based Beatdown:
So far online, I have had the best success with base Green decks splashing White, Red, or both. The key early picks to push you into a strong green deck include Rancor, Sentinel Spider, Garruk’s Packleader, Roaring Primadox, and, to a lesser extent, Flinthoof Boar and Ring of Kalonia. If you take an early Primadox, cards like Elvish Visionary and Attended Knight become much more desirable. Later on in packs, you are going to want to pick up cards like Farseek, Arbor Elf, Primal Huntbeast, Centaur Courser, Elvish Visionary, and Spiked Baloth. Your deck is going to want one to three Vastwood Gorger/Duskdale Wurm depending on the number of ramp cards you have. A deck with three+ fixers (Evolving Wilds /Farseeks) will have no trouble splashing both red and white. This can sometimes work extremely well because many players will not take cards like Prized Elephant, Divine Verdict, or Rummaging Goblin highly. Each of these cards is extremely good in this type of a deck while being mediocre in others. I have had trouble evaluating Prey Upon in this particular format. Because of the availability of Farseek and Evolving Wilds to fix my mana, I have found myself relying on red and white removal much more than Prey Upon. The card can fine, but doesn’t even 1 for 1 some of the biggest problems that we run into. Cards like Deadly Recluse and Vampire Nighthawk can prove to be a major obstacle and Prey Upon is just awful against those. The other cards we have trouble with are creatures that have an on-color ring and grow to the point of being able to go bigger than our creatures. Prey Upon is potentially even worse in this situation because two of the rings prevent the card entirely, and under other circumstances we are using Prey Upon to two-for-one ourselves for a creature that was initially much smaller. The red and white removal that I prefer to splash I am sure comes as a surprise to no one. Oblivion Ring, Pacifism, Flames of the Firebrand, and Searing Spear are all fantastic and have little drawback on our mana. These cards in combination with the three I mentioned earlier will often round out the entirety of red and white cards that I run in a dedicated Green deck. Cards like Serra Angel become much better in a straight up GW shell with a much smaller red splash, so I will often take something a little bit weaker than the Angel to help keep my consistency once I am well into the green archetype. There are obviously a variety of other ways to draft green in this set, but this is the one that I have had the most success with. I have done about twenty M13 drafts and have drafted this style of Naya deck in six of those drafts, leading to wins in four of them and a 2-pack finish in one of the others.
I feel like Black is very over drafted at the moment and lacks the very splash-able cards that used to make great early picks in pack 1 (like Doom Blade). Murder is going to be the cornerstone of a good black deck, and the deck can go in one of really two main directions. UB Control can be a very powerful archetype. The types of removal available in these colors allow you to take full advantage of the undervalued Archaeomancers and Augur of Bolas that tend to float around picks 4-7. A card like Kraken Hatchling can be picked up extremely late and even still manages to find a home in this type of deck alongside your Giant Scorpions and Fog Banks. The one problem this deck runs into is that it does not have a particularly great way to end the game quickly. Harbor Bandit is my personal favorite, and usually there is only one person at the table trying to draft this card, so you can get it around 3rd-5th most packs. Essence Drain and Public Execution are fine cards in the control deck that plans to go long. These two cards in particular are going to be strong signals that control is open if you see them pick 4-6 of pack 1. The most success I have seen with this archetype was when the deck had a particularly powerful finisher like Sphinx of Uthuun or Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis or had multiple Talrand’s Invocations. Another decent option is to try to grab one to two Rise From the Grave and just kill your opponent with their own Sentinel Spider. This deck is particularly strong against the “typical” midrange grindy draft decks of core set limited, but tends to struggle a bit more with the dedicated archetypes (red based aggro, mill, and exalted).
The other strong Black based archetype is obviously Exalted. The pieces to put together a good exalted deck are rather obvious. The problem I have ran into with this deck was that there weren’t enough of the “good” exalted cards (Aven Squire and the uncommon Knight cycle), and I was stuck taking a bunch of mediocre cards simply because they have the Exalted keyword. I believe the best way to go into this archetype is through availability/signals. There is nothing wrong with first picking a Knight of Glory/Infamy or with taking a strong piece of Black/White removal (Murder, O-Ring, Pacifism). Then, if the common exalted creatures keep coming, you are likely to end up with a strong deck – but you can’t be afraid to go off in another direction if the Exalted cards just aren’t there. The on-color rings are very good in the Exalted deck; and a Ring of Kolonia can even find a home in a very dedicated Exalted deck.
With these three archetypes out of the way, we are left with a variety of decks that I would consider tier 2. If built correctly, some of these decks can be unstoppable, but the biggest problem you will run into is card availability/strength.
Red Based Aggro:
This deck is set up to take full advantage of red’s aggressive creatures. Mogg Flunkies is the centerpiece of this deck. The ideal support cards include Reckless Brute, Bladetusk Boar, Krenko’s Command, Furnace Whelp, Goblin Battle Jester, and Trumpet Blast. Unfortunately for Crimson Muckwader, I believe that this deck pairs best with green or blue. Green gives access to more creatures that are still aggressive in nature like Centaur Courser, Yeva’s Forcemage, Flinthoof Boar and Timperpack Wolf. Blue gives access to Welkin Tern, Wind Drake, Unsummon, and Sleep. Sleep is absolutely insane in this type of deck if you have set it up with enough two and three drops. I have seen people playing as few as 15 lands in a red aggro deck and can crush their opponents very quickly. If you try to go this route early, Mogg Flunkies is an incredibly important pick and there is very little that you should take over it. Without two+ Flunkies, you just will not be fast enough.
Blue Based Mill:
This deck is almost always average, but sometimes it is just great. There have been many drafts where I see a pick 9 or 10 Mind Sculpt and wonder in the back of my mind if I could have gone into mill earlier. The only times I would recommend drafting this would be when you are in UB or UW Control and end up seeing some late Mind Sculpts, or if you just really want to try to have fun making mill work at FNM. Vedalken Entrancer fits nicely due to his 4 toughness (which conveniently gets around a million more things than 3 toughness) and his small built in mill clock. To justify playing Mind Sculpt in your deck, I believe that you really need at least four of them. The risk of playing a do nothing card is so large with Mind Sculpt that playing less than four is just asking for trouble. Sure, sometimes you will end up milling your opponent anyways…but a lot of the time you will die while they have 11 cards in their library and you are out of gas. The other problem is that sometimes your opponent will just have the Elixir of Immortality. Needless to say, this one card just completely hoses your entire win condition.
These two archetypes will look surprisingly similar but can function in different ways. The key card that they will have in common is Arctic Aven. This card is, in my opinion, the best of the uncommon cycle of cards like it, and can easily be a first pick. The lifelink on the Aven is so incredibly powerful and many decks just can’t do anything about it. Whether you are fliers or control, you will be taking Essence Scatters, Faerie Invaders, Talrand’s Invocations, Negates, Serra Angels, Oblivion Rings, and Pacifisms highly in packs 2 and 3. Negate will sometimes wheel…but I always like to have one to two copies. The more flier specific cards are…cards with Flying! Welkin Tern, Wind Drake, and Griffin Protector can all apply a reasonable clock. Griffin Protector in particular is ideal for this deck in combination with cards like Attended Knight and Captains Call to buy time on the ground. The control deck will want to avoid the Wind Drakes in favor of cards like Divine Verdict, Vedalken Entrancer, and Fog Bank. Arctic Aven will still shine as your finisher in this deck as long as you have a way to protect it.
That is all that I have for today! I am going to continue to actively test M13 draft and Standard in particular as these are the formats on Day One at the World Magic Cup. I would love to hear any of your comments on M13 Draft as a format, as I am sure there are some powerful things that I have missed in this article. Are there any archetypes that you believe should be considered Tier 1? Are there any powerful cards that I failed to mention? Also, I am very new to writing Magic articles, and I would be very appreciative of constructive criticism via Twitter or in the comments for this article. What did/didn’t you like about my writing style? What could I have done to make the article easier/more enjoyable to read? Did I say anything in a way that offended you or made you want to post negative comments?
Thank you very much for reading, and I will be updating you next week about Team USA’s collective preparation for Standard!
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