I’ve recently been drafting with Magic 2013 enough to make some conclusions. I’ve made ten of them as a matter of fact. So, without further ado:
Besides Burn, Red Is Pretty Weak
Three of the five best commons in red are burn: Searing Spear, Chandra's Fury, and Turn to Slag. The two best uncommons are also burn spells: Volcanic Geyser and Flames of the Firebrand. The best common creatures are both mediocre 4-drops: Bladetusk Boar and Canyon Minotaur. One of the best uncommon creatures, Furnace Whelp, is also a 4-drop, so red could really use some help at 2 and 3 mana. As a result, red works best as a complimentary color for a base-white, -black, or -green deck. White and green have better cheap, aggressive creatures, and if you play black, at least your Crimson Muckwaders become really nasty 2-drops.
Drafting Blue Is about the Uncommons
The best commons in blue are Welkin Tern, Wind Drake, Divination, Unsummon, Faerie Invaders, Downpour, and Watercourser. The rest are barely playable at best. You get at least a little bit of each of the things you hope for from blue: flyers, bounce, card-draw, and tapping. None of it is particularly exciting, though. If I had to use a first or second pick on one of these cards, I’d be a little disappointed. The uncommons, though, are a different story. Arctic Aven, Sleep, Talrand's Invocation, and Switcheroo all have the potential to be game breakers in the right deck. I’m usually happy to first-pick any of these, although for Arctic Aven, I really need to be playing W/U.
Black Doesn’t Like to Share
This is a pretty common issue for black. Most of the best black cards are very color-intensive. Some of the best commons—Murder, Liliana's Shade, and Sign in Blood—plus the best uncommon—Vampire Nighthawk—reward you for playing with a lot of black mana. Not surprisingly, this is even more pronounced among the rares: Mutilate, Phylactery Lich, and Vampire Nocturnus. Of course, it doesn’t mean you can’t successfully use black as a secondary color, it’s just somewhat limiting. Cards such as Essence Drain, Bloodhunter Bat, and Servant of Nefarox all make fine additions to a deck with black as the secondary color.
Green Is a Power Color
This is a strong statement coming from me. Avacyn Restored was one of the first sets in a long time in which I liked drafting green. Green has the built-in handicap of not having much evasion or removal, so it has to be incredibly strong in other ways for me to want to draft it. For starters, green commons in Magic 2013 feature both removal and a solid threat that’s also a great answer to flyers: Prey Upon and Sentinel Spider. It has very powerful uncommons that you can build whole decks around: Rancor, Garruk's Packleader, and Roaring Primadox. Centaur Courser and Primal Huntbeast are solid commons that also happen to be great with Rancor and Garruk's Packleader. Rancor and Titanic Growth help you break through potential stalemates on the ground and help you race with evasion creatures. If you count Flinthoof Boar, it has excellent common or uncommon creatures from 2 to 5 on the mana curve. A staple in Constructed, Acidic Slime is potentially even better in Limited where it can color-screw them or get rid of a power card such as Pacifism or Jayemdae Tome in addition to giving you a creature that can trade with your opponent’s best creature.
White Is the Best Color in M13
This is bit less surprising. It has good removal: Pacifism and Oblivion Ring. It has good evasion: War Falcon, Aven Squire, Griffin Protector, and Serra Angel. It has excellent creatures early in the mana curve: War Falcon, Aven Squire, Knight of Glory, Attended Knight, and Crusader of Odric. It even has some of the best combat tricks in the format: Show of Valor and Safe Passage. If conveniently pairs nicely with green, too. Green has the one thing white lacks: big creatures higher on the mana curve, and Prized Elephant is quite the beast in G/W. Which leads me to my next point . . .
It’s Good to Draft Friendly Colors
As I mentioned, G/W is excellent, and so is W/U, R/G, and B/R. U/B seems fine, too, although I’m more excited about the other four pairs. Each of the friendly-color combos has an uncommon creature that becomes a first-pick bomb if you’re playing the right color combo. In addition, most of the friendly-color combos have good synergy. W/U gives you good tools for a stall on the ground while winning with a flyers strategy. In R/G, red supplies burn to go with green’s excellent supply of creatures. B/R goes base-black with a splash for burn, making for an excellent aggressive deck with a lot of removal.
1 Toughness Is an Issue
Some of the best creatures in Magic 2013 have 1 toughness: Arbor Elf, War Falcon, Aven Squire, Knight of Glory, Knight of Infamy, Welkin Tern, and Servant of Nefarox. Yet the format is full of cards that punish 1 toughness creatures: Crippling Blight, Cower in Fear, Chandra's Fury, Rain of Blades, and Flames of the Firebrand. Many 1-toughness creatures are still worth drafting, of course, but they get a slight hit to their values, and cards like Chandra's Fury get a slight bump to their values.
187 Creatures are Bombs
This is generally the case in Magic. Any time you get both a creature and a spell-like effect from the same card when you cast it, that’s usually a pretty good thing. This might be even more true than usual in Magic 2013. There are several cards in Magic 2013 that become noticeably more powerful when you’re playing creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities. Perhaps the most powerful of these is Roaring Primadox. Get him into play with a couple 187 creatures, and if he sticks around, you can usually take over the game pretty quickly. Rise from the Grave, Unsummon, Griffin Protector, and Crusader of Odric all reward you for getting your effects by putting creatures into play rather than through playing instants and sorceries.
The Creatures are Better than the Removal . . .
. . . so be ready to work through and around stalemates. My initial impression is that this format is more about high-quality creatures than high-quality creature removal. It’s not quite as pronounced as it was in Avacyn Restored, but it still seems to be the case. As a result, it’s important to have a plan for breaking and/or circumventing creature stalemates. Draft evasion, draft ways to deal with evasion, and draft ways to break through on the ground. High-quality combat tricks and exalted are excellent for these situations.
Exalted Is a Real Threat
I’ve usually paid very little attention to exalted in Limited, but that seems to be a mistake in Magic 2013. This is especially true given the number of creature stalemates that seem to come up. It allows you to make an otherwise mediocre creature into a threat that your opponent has to either take a lot of damage from or trade a better creature for while allowing you to keep the rest of your team back on defense. This also makes W/B a tempting color combination in Draft because those colors have all of the exalted. Playing with a lot of exalted also makes cards such as Downpour, Fog, Public Execution, Rain of Blades, and Safe Passage much less of a big deal for you to play against—you’re so rarely interested in attacking with more than one creature.
So far, Magic 2013 seems to be a pretty fun set to draft with. I’ve always been a fan of core set drafting, dating back to using Fourth Edition in the first Booster Draft Pro Tour in Los Angeles in 1996. I like how true to the game’s intended flavor each color is, and I like having at least some of the cards in the set be old favorites and Magic staple cards. I also like that, so far, I haven’t been able to determine one specific archetype that just seems to scream to be drafted above all others. As usual, it helps to open a bomb rare, but that’s pretty much always the case in Booster Draft. Many players were unhappy with Avacyn Restored Draft and were looking forward to a new set to draft in hopes that is would be an improvement. Those people should be happy with drafting Magic 2013—as I am. So no excuses; get out there and start drafting again!