This Saturday, I will be hosting a draft for seven of my friends. It will be our first experience with Theros as a full-fledged draft format. Some of us have added some cards of the set to decks, and I also Winston-drafted twice with two friends, but never have we sat together for a full Theros draft. This article is me writing down some thoughts about the format.
The first question that came to mind was, should I even write this? The article will pop up on Facebook, and my friends could see it there. While draft is at its core about cooperation with your fellow drafters, there is also a part that supersedes that principle: namely, strategy. As I’m writing this, I don’t know if I will share this article before drafting. (Let’s face it, not writing it was never an option.) It’s possible I’ll schedule it to air as soon as possible, which is about the time the draft starts. This keeps the door open for a follow-up article, too!
So why am I writing this? As is often the case with me, writing helps me better understands my thoughts, no matter what the subject. In my head, thoughts are random and jumbled – on paper or the screen, I can categorize them and create structure and a clear overview. It helps me better understand my own thoughts. This should come as no surprise, though – I am a writer, after all. I’d like to mull over my thoughts before acting, be it speaking or, in this case, drafting.
Besides two Winston drafts and the prerelease, I have no other Limited experience with Theros. So how did I get to these thoughts? Well, I’ve watched a few drafts online. I’ve watched both Pro Tour-drafts and I find the drafts on Channel Fireball highly amusing and informative. LSV is the best of the bunch, narrating every detail without becoming boring.
Oftentimes I find it difficult to get into a format. At the prerelease, I struggle to build the best possible deck right from the start (I think I switched colors during the last three). Theros was no different. Actually, I found this particular format more challenging than usual. For starters, I had no idea how to evaluate bestow, neither how to play with it. Is it a creature? Is it an aura? Since it’s both, you have to evaluate accordingly. In Heroic decks, it is important the aura part is cheap. In other decks, it’s more important the body is useful. In those cases, bestowing the creature is more of a bonus. It also depends on your curve and your hand when and how you cast either variation. More on bestow later.
I immediately new heroic was a mechanic that probably wasn’t for me. It forces you to play an aggressive deck, from midrangey to hyper-aggressive. I did a test draft once and got forced into heroic, but had no idea how to draft it. What’s the ideal dudes-to-triggers ratio? Then there is the matter of when to use what ways to trigger heroic. I’m not sure when to draw the trigger; sometimes you want it preemptively, sometimes you just wait for a double block or attempted removal. I just hope I don’t have to find out during the upcoming draft.
Rules of the format
The format is somewhat based on four pillars: bestow, heroic, devotion, and monstrosity. You could say it’s about enchantments, but a) that’s just a subtheme and b) bestow is the manifestation of that theme. You don’t need enchantment removal like you did artifact removal in both Mirrodin-blocks, for example. (Maindecking Annuls at the prerelease was a painful reminder of that.)
With all that bestow, I thought it would be a very slow format, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Rise of the Eldrazi. Sadly, I was wrong again. It looks to be of average speed, not as slow as Rise or as fast as Zendikar (thank the heavens above).
There is less removal, so you need other ways to remove creatures. Getting them to interact in combat and then blowing them out with a combat trick is a good alternative. The lack of decent-priced no-nonsense removal is one of the reasons game can slow down and stall. Either fast decks or evasion profit here.
The tricks are ofcourse the catalyst for heroic decks. And tricks, we have a lot of. White is king here, followed by green and red. Blue and black also have ways to trigger heroic, but are not as focused as the Naya colors. The UB heroic deck is therefore a lot harder to put together than its WR brethren.
The trick (hah! I made a pun) with heroic is to know when to take the creature and when to take the trick. It depends on the signals you get from other drafters. Is there another heroic drafter in close proximity? How bad do other players want tricks for their non-heroic decks? As heroic creatures are pretty parasitic (they need a certain type of card to work), you should be able to pick these up easier than ways to target (tricks are universally useful, and the same goes for bestow creatures). I don’t know the magic number of ways to trigger heroic, but I figure it’s between 6 and 9. If you are outside those bounds, you should consider switching strategies or forcing harder.
During gameplay, this conundrum translates to knowing when to play a creature, when not to, and when to play or not play your card to trigger heroic. Heroic can be pretty all-in, which means you can get blown out when too aggressive, but also overrun when being too cautious. This is generally not the playstyle I prefer.
Now this is more to my liking! Devotion was also the source of my biggest misconception of this format – that it would be all about Gary, Merchant of Asphodel (I know him, so I can call him Gary. For the rest of you, it’s (Mr.) Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Just sayin.’).
Turns out I was wrong. Which is good, because I really really like him. If not everyone is after him, it means I can get him more easily. Which is also good, because a B/x deck with a heavy devotion component is the deck I look forward to drafting the most. I just like to snatch up all the Gary’s and Disciples of Phenax in the world and hope for the best.
Other colors have nice devotion cards too. Evangel of Heliod, Fanatic of Mogis and Karametra’s Acolyte come to mind. I think green is the second-best color to be devoted to, with the Acolyte playing a pivotal role in casting more fatties, and earlier too. The double Acolyte-deck is quite the deck.
Just as a reminder: don’t first pick a God. They’re good, but only when you have a deck ready for them. When you can’t turn them on, they’re just overpriced and mediocre enchantments. They’re splashy, so I think they’ll be slightly overdrafted come Saturday (should we have one in our pool).
As I said above, bestow cards are a weird bunch. Any card that presents options is just another opportunity to make a mistake, if you look at is pessimistically. The optimist would say that more options are always better.
Just like Marshall Sutcliffe said a few weeks ago, shortcuts help you evaluate things. And not just the shortcuts that help you look for the, say, red common Hill Giant or black common removal spell. It helps to develop shortcuts for set-specific mechanics as well. What does bestow do? How would you evaluate them on the spot? I would sum bestow up as follows:
Bestow cards are first and foremost creatures that can also be used later on as aura’s. If the creature part isn’t impressive, you usually don’t play it, unless you’re drafting heroic.
Remember, this is just the baseline. Cards can vary based on the situation. But I think it’s a good starting point.
This mechanic is kinda in the same vein as bestow: it’s a creature with two modes. Although with monstrosity, it’s a creature first, then a bigger creature second. You don’t make a choice when the card is in your hand, but instead you’re presented an option to use during a game.
To make a creature monstrous costs on average more than bestowing, so they aren’t as flexible as bestow cards. The more you play, the more you need the mana to support it and/or good early game defenses.
By far the most common error of playing with monstrosity this Saturday is going to be the response to activating it. If the creature leaves the battlefield before the ability resolves, it isn’t around to become monstrous. So, no triggers for you! (This is a nod to the infamous Seinfeld soup mafia.)
To finish this article, I’d like to make a few personal observations about the colors and where my preferences lie. As you may know, I am a blue mage. This has not changed in Theros. In fact, it is my favorite color, together with black. Or without black. What I’m trying to say is, blue and black are my favorite colors to draft, either together or apart. As long as my deck is at least one of those colors, I’m, happy.
That being said, I think U/B is a hard deck to draft. You need good removal, ways to stall, and ways to break through the stall. Luckily, various cards help me there. Omenspeaker and Gray Merchant are two examples of cards that fill multiple roles.
This looks to be a format where monocolor is viable. I have great respect for people drafting monocolor decks, and moreso winning monocolor decks. My prediction for this Saturday is that most decks will be one color with a minor splash. There just isn’t a lot of fixing available for three color decks to work.
How does this translate to my draft? Well, I’m going to try and cut my first pick’s color as hard as I possibly can. Well, not that hard. Not like Paul Cheon did in a recent draft on Channel Fireball, taking Leafcrown Dryad over Keepsake Gorgon P1P2 because of a first pick Boon Satyr. To make matters worse, he did take another Gorgon right after that.
Colors like blue and black I’d like to cut. In the meantime, I try to stay open. If another color seems to be flowing, I want to be able to jump in halfway pack 1. My preference will be to stay monocolor, or X/y (that is, one major color and a minor one).
This means that I’m not a big fan of the multicolored cards, of which there are quite a few. Just like the Gods, they aren’t often first pick material because they require quite the commitment. Being in two colors after your first pick is not ideal. However, just like the Gods, they become better as the draft progresses. The longer the draft takes, the less other players want a God. For example, if I have a few red cards but start to sense that white is open, I might be tempted to move in when I see that Heliod. But come pack three, when I know my colors, I’m not interested in an off-color God. Even when I’m playing white but just as a splash, I don’t want Heliod. For the sake of the draft, I hope all Gods we open will be in pack three. The chance of a narrow card to table increase as the draft progresses.
The only multicolored card I’m actively hoping to open is Prophet of Kruphix. That’s the kind of card I’m willing to go all-in on. Another very good multicolored card is Polis Crusher (or Xenagos), but that’s a color combination I don’t like. We’ll see if there are strong incentives in that pack not to pick the RG bomb should this arise during draft.
Lastly I want to mention red. I like the color a lot, probably third after blue and black (without a context, that is). But as is the case in other sets, I think red is a trap here. It has a few high quality cards which are first pick-worthy in the abstract. That’s without taking into account the lackluster cards that follow behind the best cards. After Lightning Strike and Ill-Tempered Cyclops, the quality of red commons goes down quickly. In some sets, black has the same problems. In Theros, black is very good, but still you should be cautious to combine it with red. I think B/R is a trap: those colors traditionally lack flyers and evasion, the two things a deck with a lot of removal needs.
I think there are two decks in which you actively want red: as a support color, and in a dedicated heroic deck. If you already have established another color as your base color, there’s no harm in taking the red removal. The cards are still excellent, after all. Otherwise, I think it’s fine to take red removal, as long as you keep an open mind and try not to cut it. If anything, cut another color instead.
Besides removal, the best red cards are heroic guys and their support. It’s another good reason to move into the color, because heroic is pretty narrow and not a lot of other drafters want the same cards you want. White is the color you most want to combine with red should you be drafting heroic. Many people proclaim it’s the fastest deck in this Limited environment.
I can’t wait for Saturday. Drafts of our group are always loads of fun, but we draft way too little. I hope this one can lit the spark a bit. Thanks for reading, and godspeed. You’ll need it on Theros.