Drawing Live—Changing Seasons Part One

Spring is come. Change is in the air. It’s time for a new Magic set!

As you’re likely aware, Dragon’s Maze previews began this week. This article was written just before the first spoilers came out, so I sadly cannot yet comment on anything recently revealed. I’d like to instead take this opportunity to reflect on a previous Limited shakeup and my history as a Magic player.

Almost three two years ago, Wizards changed the order in which small sets were drafted. Originally, sets were drafted in the order that they were released. For example, when Stronghold was released (and Limited was young), Tempest–Tempest–Tempest draft was replaced by Tempest–Tempest–Stronghold draft (with the pack of Stronghold being drafted last). In Scars of Mirrodin block this was reversed; when Mirrodin Besieged come out, Scars–Scars–Scars was replaced by Besieged–Scars–Scars. I’d argue that this helped newer cards be relevant in Limited (since you’d build your draft around the first pack, rather than wait until the final pack to see new cards)—but that’s beyond the scope of this article, so feel free to discuss this in the comments. This change was concurrent with a major moment in my life—my return to the game after an 11-year hiatus.

In the summer of 2010, a combination of new friendships, finding my old cards, and my having been introduced to the concept of drafting led to me attending my first ever release event, for Magic 2011. Thus began my first foray out of kitchen-table Magic and into competitive Limited play. The first format I learned was triple Scars of Mirrodin draft.

My memories of Scars of Mirrodin draft are muddled, to say the least. I had little idea of what I was doing. I didn’t know anyone at the store I played. But I learned. Slowly but surely, I made mistakes, received advice, and got enough reps in to get a handle on the Limited format.

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As I recall, triple Scars was fast. Most decks seemed to have a minimum of two or three Myrs (two-drop creatures that tap for one mana of a particular color) and fifteen or sixteen lands. Red/white metalcraft was a powerful deck. Black/green infect was a very powerful deck. Most decks either won quickly on the back of fast infect/metalcraft creatures like Plague Stinger and Glint Hawk Idol or ramped into a six-mana bomb like Carnifex Demon, Hoard-Smelter Dragon, Steel Hellkite, or Sunblast Angel that would immediately win the game.

Those were the primary archetypes—if an opponent led with a Mountain, you’d have a good guess that the other color in their deck was white. Metalcraft decks could have green or black, but you’d have a smaller card pool to draw from than if you were in red/white (since many of the good green and black commons were made for infect decks). Infect was only in green and black, so an infect deck playing only one of those colors was putting itself at a disadvantage by denying itself half of the colored infect creatures (there were several artifact creatures with infect). Those paying attention should note that I’ve completely ignored one color while discussing the primary archetypes.

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I’ve always been a blue mage at heart, ever since I cast my first Counterspell way back in ’94. Naturally, when I returned to the game, I wanted to play my favorite color. At my first prerelease (run by Luis Chato, then of Brooklyn Gamers), I opened an apparently abysmal pool (what I’d give to see those cards again, with what I know now) and created a horrendous mono-blue sealed deck. I lost in the final round to local Legacy legend Dylan.

In triple Scars, Blue was the awkward color. It didn’t have any creatures with infect; it could proliferate poison counters, but it couldn’t poison players in the first place. Consequently, most (successful) infect decks were B/G. Blue’s common creatures weren’t as aggressive as red or white’s, and its metalcraft cards were weaker—so most (successful) metalcraft decks were R/W with a ton of artifacts. Blue certainly had reasonable commons in Sky-Eel School, Neurok Replica, and Soliton (which combined beautifully with Heavy Arbalest). However, these cards didn’t synergize with any available archetype and proved slow and weak to the plentiful artifact removal. Blue had powerful, card advantage-producing uncommons in Darkslick Drake, Trinket Mage, and Volition Reins. The same problems persisted—blue cards were slow and not synergistic.

Cut to a younger Zach, desperately trying to draft blue. The color was almost always open, since it was regarded as the worst. Sometimes, I got the Soliton/Heavy Arbalest combo off, sometimes I smashed face with UW skies, sometimes I got the UB control deck working, and sometimes I had UR metalcraft. But more often, I lost. I was new to Limited and drafting the weakest color. After a few months, I had a handle on the format. Then Mirrodin Besieged came out and everything changed.

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I mean it. All of the draft strategies I’d learned had shifted. All of the color evaluations I had internalized were scrambled. Completely new archetypes opened up. To give a brief overview of each color:

White received Divine Offering, the best common artifact removal spell in Besieged. It no longer needed red for instant-speed Shatter effects. It also received the cheap and color-committing flyer, Leonin Skyhunter, which combined with Scars of Mirrodin’s Glint Hawk, Glint Hawk Idol, and Kemba’s Skyguard to make white aggro possible without relying on red or metalcraft.

Blue received several key roleplayers that turned it into a good color. Oculus gave blue a way to withstand aggro. Quicksilver Geyser was a blowout tempo spell/way to reuse ETB effects/artifacts with charge counters. Steel Sabotage was an incredibly efficient and flexible spell. Blue also received powerful uncommons like Corrupted Conscience and Vedalken Anatomist that were strong enough to overwhelm archetypal decks. Blue/good stuff and blue/X had enough powerful cards to become viable options.

Black received Morbid Plunder and Phyrexian Rager as powerful card-advantage options. Spread the Sickness and Virulent Wound were excellent, splashable removal spells. Meanwhile, black’s common infect creatures were worse than they were in Scars of Mirrodin (nothing compared to Plague Stinger). These changes at common helped push black out of fast infect and into slower attrition decks.

Red received solid removal options in Blisterstick Shaman and Burn the Impure. There were fewer artifacts in Besieged than there were in Scars, so metalcraft decks had a harder time maintaining metalcraft (thus slowing them down).

Green continued to receive powerful infect creatures in Blightwidow and Rot Wolf. Green/X infect remained very viable, since fewer players who were drafting black were on the poison plan. Green also received an absolute bomb, Fangren Marauder, which I’ll talk more about in a moment.

Artifacts were less numerous in Besieged, making metalcraft decks harder to draft. Ichor Wellspring created its own draft archetype (draft as many Ichor Wellsprings as you can and a sacrifice outlet like Rusted Slasher to produce massive card advantage).

Drafting one fewer pack of Scars of Mirrodin meant that there was a pack without common mana Myr to serve as mana accelerators. The pack of Mirrodin Besieged provided more removal spells and had them available in more colors. The new commons like Blisterstick Shaman and Virulent Wound made it all too easy to kill tiny creatures (like mana Myr or aggressive infectors). The fastest archetypes, black/X infect and red/white metalcraft, became diluted (black infect was weaker and there were fewer artifacts/powerful metalcraft cards). Consequently, the speed of the format slowed down dramatically. No card sums this up better than my main man, Alpha Tyrannax.

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The jolly green dinosaur was close to unplayable in triple Scars. If you lived long enough to have six mana, you needed to cast something that would win you the game, like a Wurmcoil or Contagion Engine. If you instead cast a big, dumb 6/5, your opponent could kill you with a Trigon of Raged infect creature or an army of Myr tokens. Costing six mana was a fatal liability until Besieged was released.

Besieged slowed down the format. Suddenly, you could reliably untap with six mana and not be on the threshold of losing the game. Alpha Tyrannax had a whopping five toughness, a butt big enough to survive almost every removal spell in the format. When Besieged was released, people still considered the dinosaur a low pick, so you could easily snag three or four dinosaurs. Add in Fangren Marauder—a behemoth that could gain enough life to make victory all but impossible for an opponent not on the infect plan—and dinosaurs went from being a fringe archetype to a top-tier one.

Alright, I’ve told you all about a Limited format that’s over two years old. What’s the point? Glad you asked! A new set, even a small set, can dramatically change drafting. As cards are spoiled, look back to Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash (which will be drafted together for the first time ever—an exciting experience).

See if some cards get better or worse (Ogre Jailbreaker is very, very likely to regularly have some gates to crash, given the Guildgate-in-every-pack setup in Dragon’s Maze).

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Think about what the speed of the format will be like (Gatecrash was faster than Return to Ravnica, but perhaps DGM will be a significantly slower format as people switch to three-color decks—or perhaps the dedicated Boros drafter can still craft a blisteringly fast deck with Rakdos all-stars Splatter Thug and Gore-House Chainwalker).

Consider whether old archetypes are still viable (the Ethereal Armor deck will be hard to draft with only one pack of Return to Ravnica) and if previously “bad” cards become staples of new archetypes, just as dinosaurs did in Mirrodin Besieged (maybe Crosstown Courier will be an important component of aggressive Dimir?).

In other words, I’m excited to draft a completely new format, even though the majority of cards we’ll be opening are ones we’ve already played with. I’m going to use the knowledge I’ve built up about RTR and Gatecrash drafts to help me. But at the same time, I’m not going to be so married to these ideas, causing me to miss new and exciting interactions.

I’d love to dive into ideas for drafting Dragon’s Maze (this article was inspired by questioning the viability of Boros, the most all-in aggressive guild, in a format where one may be heavily incentivized to draft three-color decks). However, I’m well over my word-count limit and, for the sake of both your sanity and mine, I’ll end this article before it becomes a novella. I can’t wait to explore the Implict Maze in a few short weeks, and I imagine you’re pretty stoked, as well. And remember, when you’re ready to learn from each experience and improve yourself, you’re always Drawing Live.

—Zach B.

twitch.tv/ZennithGP

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4 Responses to “Drawing Live—Changing Seasons Part One”
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  1. […] fun come-into-play effects on my green and blue creatures. Here he was outclassed by Zach’s (of Drawing Live fame) Momir Vig deck that cast a turn three Jace, the Mind Sculptor followed by a turn four […]

  2. […] for the changing tides of draft with this review of how Mirrodin Besieged to changed Triple-Scars draft. What will DGR be compared to Gatecrash, […]

  3. […] Elsewhere, Zach Barash explored how new sets can shake up an already well-defined limited format, as Jess Stirba wrote about her process and evaluation of her very own Pauper Cube. Matt Jones took a look at some preview art from the Dragon’s Maze spoiler season, and Li Xu gave in and booked his ticket to GP Vegas. […]

  4. […] has the potential to be a 4/6. The Warden, however, was a weak card throughout Scars block Limited (which I wrote about last week). It was too slow against aggressive decks and too difficult to reliably make itself into a 4/6. I […]



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