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Flexibility in Theros Draft

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Welcome back to Very Limited. This week, we’ll be talking about a double-edged sword. “Staying open,” or being flexible with our colors, will allow us to situate ourselves in the most open color combination and, presumably, allow us to end up with a better-than-average deck each time. Some Draft formats, such as Return to Ravnica block, never gave us a chance to stay open—we would be forced to take very specific cards based on the colors of the cards we had already taken, and the power level of our Draft was often subject to the whim of a random-number generator. Born of the Gods, Theros, Theros is much different, though. There’s an opportunity for us to be rewarded handsomely for keeping our options open.

Akroan Conscriptor
Why is staying open rewarded in the new Draft format? We’re at an interesting point in the Limited environment. Born of the Gods is generally the weakest pack in our Draft deck; there are a few very powerful cards, but the depth we find in Theros just isn’t there. Our second and third packs are very deep. It’s not unusual for eighteen or nineteen of the cards in our final deck to be out of Theros packs. This means that settling into a color combination before we’re halfway through the first pack is usually a mistake. Sure, we may end up being rewarded, but being results-oriented won’t help us improve.

We need to stop forcing archetypes when drafting Theros block. Sure, we may have had success forcing W/U repeatedly, but that’s not going to happen on Magic Online or in a Grand Prix, and it’s certainly not going to help at the Pro Tour. We often see people forcing aggressive strategies at large events. This used to be an effective way to end up with a fast deck when everyone else was looking to craft a beauty, but times have changed, and it’s become the default setting for players who are nervous about their first forays into high-level Limited competition. Remaining open in your first Draft at Grand Prix Montreal this weekend will almost assuredly serve you better than trying to force a W/X heroic deck that five other people at your table will also be trying to force. Going all-in on a specific plan after our first or second pick isn’t drafting a deck, it’s the equivalent of crossing our fingers and hoping things pan out better for us than the others at the table. We want control over our destiny. We want to be calling the shots. We want to decide what deck we’re drafting based on the information we have about what other people are taking or passing.

Gild
How do we stay open? Simply put, we should be taking the most powerful card out of most packs. We can take something of similar power level if it aligns with the color of cards we already have, but generally speaking, we want to be taking the best card out of most Born of the Gods packs that go through us. This gives us a lot of options as the Draft progresses. We should have a pretty clear understanding of what people around us are taking based on the cards we’re passing. However, we can’t always trust what the player(s) on our left “should” be doing. (People who complain about people near them “ruining a Draft” by not reading signals properly are generally the worst kind of scum.) There’s absolutely no way to know what any person is going to do at any point in time. At any given moment, we could spontaneously combust. We could gain superpowers. We could time travel and find ourselves riding on the back of a wooly mammoth. It’s not all that ridiculous to imagine that the dude on our left decided that he’d rather take a reasonable white heroic creature over something like Gild or Arbiter of the Ideal.

Speaking of heroic white decks, does anyone actually win with these things? It feels as though we play against some W/X heroic deck in every round of every Draft on Magic Online. These decks are very over-drafted, and the power level represented here isn’t strong enough for people to be forcing it as hard as they are. The W/X heroic decks are fine, but the free wins we can pick up with a fast heroic strategy are offset by the lackluster card power level that will have trouble breaking through whatever 5-mana creature an opponent decides to play. It’s fine to draft a white heroic strategy, but forcing it is generally a way to pick up a win or two, not a way to win the Draft.

Asphyxiate
We should try approaching our iBorn of the Gods pack like a tasting of sorts. It’s nice to have at least one color with a few playables, but we shouldn’t panic if we end up with a rainbowed assortment of good cards. The increased depth of our Theros packs allows us to focus in on what our deck should actually look like. We should try to continue taking the best card for our few picks. The second through fifth picks of our second pack will be the most important information points in the Draft. We should try to focus in on a color that seemed open in the first pack if we’re seeing good cards of the same color early in the second pack. This lays the groundwork for our game plan. Once we’ve established which two colors are best, we can pound away at them, taking every playable card we see.

Our strategy will usually leave us with a very strong deck, but there’s an added bonus to keeping our options open. By taking strong cards across different colors in the first pack, we’re significantly weakening our opponents’ decks. For that sweet rare that someone would’ve seen third- or fourth-pick, he or she doesn’t get it. This generally weakens the average power level of decks at the table, especially those around you, and it should make a lot of the possible matches in the Draft a lot easier.

How do we know a color is open? It’s possible to be hooked when a player passes a strong card to us despite being in that color, but it’s usually safe to assume that a color is open when we are passed a few strong cards of the same color from the same direction. For example, we’d know blue was open if we saw a pack-two, pick-two Nimbus Naiad, a pick-three Thassa's Emissary, and a pick-four Vaporkin. That may seem to be an extreme example, but it’s a pretty ordinary unfolding of events in this Draft format.

Chromanticore
What if the wheels come off? Sometimes, we won’t find an open color, the packs may just be weak in general, or the players around us may have fallen into cooperation haphazardly. Again, the worst thing we can do is panic and latch onto whatever deck we might have a piece of. Theros offers up a nice escape hatch in the form of Nylea's Presence, Traveler's Amulet, and Unknown Shores. Five-color green or even five-color decks with with two or three Traveler's Amulets are very capable of winning a Draft. In fact, my win ratio with five-color green strategies is quite high in this format. Chromanticore is something that you should seriously consider taking when there aren’t very strong cards in a pack—the card is bustedly bombtastic in a deck that can cast it, and it’s essentially a Baneslayer Angel that needs to be killed twice.

Next week, we’ll go back to looking at specific Draft archetypes and pick orders. It’s important that we remember to keep our options open if the new Draft format, though. The fact that a particular archetype seems strong doesn’t mean it will be available in any given Draft. Going forward, I’ll discuss Draft archetypes and talk about when we should be drafting them based on the cards we happened to have picked up in the first pack and the first few picks of the second pack. In the meantime, try a more objective approach to the new Draft format. You won’t be disappointed, and your results will improve drastically with time.


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