In recent weeks, I’ve drafted a ton of Magic 2012, and something has come to my attention. Not only are there several really good cards being underdrafted, but some of them are the type of cards you should be basing decks around. While it’s important to be able to gauge the relative power level of cards in Draft, it’s also critical to be able to correctly evaluate what their value will be to your deck.
As I said last week, it’s vital to draft a deck, not just a bunch of good cards. The key to draft archetypes lies in the commons. An understanding of which commons are key to a good draft deck and why will help you get the best possible results when drafting.
1. Gideon's Lawkeeper – In a format this fast, the winner is often the player who does something worthwhile on turn one and makes the best use of his mana every turn. If your opponent doesn’t have an early creature, you can start attacking with Lawkeeper and even trigger Bloodthirst. If he does have creatures, the Lawkeeper is much like a constantly upgrading removal spell. Every time your opponent plays a better creature, you can upgrade the creature your 1-drop is “removing.” In addition, it’s pretty convenient that you don’t need to worry about Phantasmal creatures while you have a Lawkeeper.
2. Pacifism – When you’re playing an aggressive deck (which you should be in M12), you need to be able to get key potential blockers out of the way. While Pacifism may not be as final as Doom Blade or Shock, in many ways, it’s better. It doesn’t care about size or color, and given the speed of the format, your opponent will rarely have the time/opportunity to rescue his creature from Pacifism. I’ve had plenty of games where I’ve drawn an AEther Adept, and given the intense tempo of the game, had to bounce one of my opponent’s creatures instead of one of mine that was under a Pacifism.
3. Griffin Sentinel – One of the more underrated 3-drops in M12. It stops almost every 2-drop and many 3-drops, while hitting back in the air, potentially activating Bloodthirst and potentially making your Griffin Rider into an incredible turn-three threat. Having an evasion attacker that can shut down your opponent’s offense at the same time is a perfect fit in a high-tempo format.
4. Stormfront Pegasus – A 2-power flyer for 2 mana in an aggressive environment. It speaks to the quality of White that this card isn’t higher than #4.
5. Griffin Rider – This is a tough one. I value it more than Assault Griffin, but I’d take the Griffin over it. One, everyone else seems to take the Griffin higher, and thus I can both get Riders later, and this one might table. Two, a Griffin is better in a deck with no Riders than a Rider is in a deck with no Griffins. The reason I value it more is all about mana curve. I could have a great deck without any 4-drops, but I can’t have one without 2-drops. There are few more devastating early plays than turn-three Sentinel with a Rider in play. I take Griffins much higher than I might normally, because I know I can get multiple copies of this card in most drafts.
6. Assault Griffin – A 3/2 flyer for 4 isn’t nearly as exciting as a 2/1 flyer for 2, but the fact that it’s a Griffin definitely increases how much I value this card.
7. Guardians' Pledge – Probably the most underrated White card. Too many people seem to think this card is bad if you’re not playing mono-White. Hall of Famer Rob Dougherty played five copies of this card in a two-color deck at Pro Tour: Philadelphia, and he went 3–0 with that deck. I’m not saying that five is the optimal number of this card, but it certainly helps illustrate the power of this card. If you ask Rob, he’ll tell you that going 3–0 was much more because of having five Pledges than in spite of it. Being able to give one creature +2/+2 for 2 mana is a fine play, but giving two creatures +2/+2 for 3 mana is better, never mind pumping three or more creatures! Sure, it’s not as good as Overrun, but since it’s a 3-mana instant, it’s actually more versatile and sometimes harder for your opponent to play around. Like Griffin Rider, it’s the type of card your draft can heavily revolve around in the creation of a “deck.”
1. Merfolk Looter – This is currently my favorite common in M12 draft. When I say that, I’m thinking Pack 1, Pick 1—but if it’s late in the draft, I’m drafting U/B, I’m low on creature control, and I already have a Looter, I would take a Doom Blade instead. The key is finding the right balance between things that help your deck run and things that help your deck win. I find the first couple Looters to be invaluable. Think of all the games you lose to mana-flood or mana-screw. A turn-two Looter prevents both of these things from happening, unless your opponents removes it immediately. If he wants to spend one of his early turns killing your turn-two play, that’s fine.
2. AEther Adept – This format is so fast, bouncing a creature is often as good as killing it. Even when that isn’t the case, resetting Bloodthirst or getting rid of something like Trollhide while getting a 2/2 into play for 3 mana is amazing in this environment.
3. Phantasmal Bear – As I mentioned, making good use of turn one is incredible in this format. It’s hard to do better than a 2/2 for 1 mana in an aggressive deck. The Illusion drawback is a big one, but if you get your opponent to use a whole card on your 1-drop or even get him to use some mana and an ability to destroy it after you’ve managed to do several points of damage, you’re doing well. Given that there are matchups where I will board this card out (if my sideboard is strong enough,) it speaks to how good this card is that I still put it third on this list.
5. Ponder – One of the best signs that this card is valuable is the fact that it’s hard to draft too many of them. I’d happily play five of them in draft, and I’d consider playing more. While it’s not as good as playing a solid creature on turn one, it’s still a productive use of that turn, and it’s usually much better than a 1-drop in the late game, because it will typically get you an excellent card immediately or at least let you shuffle if you have three lands coming. Like Looter, it’s a question of balancing deck-smoothing cards versus game-winning cards. While it’s hard to have too many game-winning cards, most people don’t realize how good it can be to play with a lot of deck-smoothing cards.
6. Unsummon – The same points that apply to AEther Adept apply here. While you’re not getting a 2/2 (thus #2 versus #6,) you are getting a powerful 1-mana instant. Just being able to remove a 4-drop for 1 mana can be amazing, but it’s also great for trumping combat tricks or protecting key creatures from removal or dealing with a card like Mind Control.
7. Frost Breath – The high power level of this card in this format is strong evidence of how fast the tempo of the environment is. Frost Breath doesn’t have any permanent effect on creatures and the card’s not very versatile. It’s a relatively poor defensive card, an excellent offensive card, and an amazing racing card. Given how often games in this format become a race . . . you get the point.
1. Doom Blade – An instant-speed 2-mana answer for just about any threat. It can either help you keep the pressure on or it can take the pressure off you. It’s best if you’re playing mono-Black, because it probably means that no one else is. Unless you have the misfortune of running into mono-Black, Doom Blade’s drawback rarely matters.
2. Devouring Swarm – A 2-power flyer for 3 mana is already decent in this format. It’s the ability that pushes it to the top, however. R/B is already a terrific color combination in M12 draft, and the Swarm is a great fit with Act of Treason and to a lesser extent Fling. It also has great synergy with Reassembling Skeleton. Another reason why this card is so good is that it’s good against your opponent’s stuff: Mind Control, Act of Treason, etc.
3. Drifting Shade – Like most Black cards, the power level of this card increases based on the amount of Black mana you’re playing. It can very quickly be better than most 5-drop flyers.
4. Wring Flesh – Incredible functionality for 1 mana, it kills most early threats: Lawkeeper, Looter, Pegasus, Fireslinger, Tormented Soul, Phantasmal Bear, and Skywinder Drake. It also makes for an amazing 1-mana combat trick.
5. Sorin's Thirst – Perhaps the most underrated Black card. If you’re playing Black, you should probably be playing enough Black mana to overcome the requirement. In an aggressive environment, being able to kill a solid creature and gain life for 2 mana is extremely valuable.
6. Tormented Soul – A 1-mana super-evasion creature is terrific in a format with lots of Bloodthirst. The more Bloodthirst and the more creature enhancement you draft, the better pick this becomes.
7. Consume Spirit – For a card that can imitate Fireball, you can get this card pretty late. If you’re playing mono-Black, this probably goes up to around #2 on this list. If not, it becomes all about how much Black mana you’re playing. If you’re playing more than half Black, you should be very happy to have this card in your deck.
1. Shock – If you don’t have a turn-one creature, you can kill your opponent’s. Being able to kill a creature for 1 mana is extremely powerful in a high-tempo game. The fact that it can be used directly on your opponent is a nice bonus.
3. Blood Ogre – If you build and play your deck right, this will usually be a 3/3 first striker for , which is incredible in a fast game.
4. Chandra's Outrage – The mana costs are annoying, but 4 damage kills almost everything in this format, and the extra 2 damage is great for your aggression.
5. Gorehorn Minotaurs – One of the few reasonably costed creatures that doesn’t die to Outrage. A 5/5 on turn four will often break a game wide open. Much like Black usually depends on having loads of Black mana, Red often depends on being able to activate Bloodthirst.
6. Goblin Fireslinger – Red’s best turn-one play and its best way to activate Bloodthirst. Also a great way to get your opponent in range of you burning him out.
7. Goblin Grenade – Red’s most underrated common. 5 damage for 1 mana! Unlike Griffin Rider, it’s dead by itself. Goblins are usually easier to get than Griffins, however, and if you’re running five-plus Goblins, the Grenade makes for an amazing finisher and it can situationally be good removal. I like running Grenades in U/R because Blue card draw can help make sure I get to my Goblins, sort of like why I often prefer to play Griffin Riders in U/W.
1. Garruk's Companion – If you compare the Companion to other 2-drops, it’s quite impressive. If you compare it to the cards at #1 for each other color, it’s not. This is the problem with Green in M12. If you draft it, you’re giving up on being able to draft the more impressive cards in other colors. The good news about drafting Green is that everyone knows this, so it’s underdrafted. Your early picks might be less exciting, but your late picks will be more exciting. If you choose your colors quickly and intelligently, though, your late picks won’t matter as much, which nullifies the big advantage of drafting Green. Generally, it’s uncommons like Overrun that should get you into Green.
3. Lurking Crocodile – A 3/3 for is already quite good, but the high power level of Blue in M12 also gives it a boost.
4. Titanic Growth – Since Green lacks evasion and has little removal, cards like Growth are key in allowing them to break through.
5. Runeclaw Bear – A solid 2-drop, but once again, it compares poorly with the #5 card in every other color.
6. Giant Spider – While I’m not a big fan of 2 power for 4 mana, it can often be a key to preventing decks with flyers from outracing you.
7. Llanowar Elves – While not as exciting as the best common 1-drops in the other colors, it’s still a strong turn-one play.
As you can see, each color has deck-building keys to keep in mind when drafting it. If you’re drafting White, be sure to keep late Griffin Riders and Guardians' Pledges in mind when making your picks. If you’re in Blue, make sure your deck is fast enough to maximize the power of cards like Phantasmal Bears, Unsummon, and Frost Breath. If you’re picking Black cards, make sure to keep in mind cards like Devouring Swarm, Consume Spirit, Tormented Soul, and Drifting Shade, and making sure they’ll be powerful picks for your deck. In Red, make sure to be able to activate Bloodthirst and to have enough Goblins to support the Grenades you can probably get late. Also, be sure to have a deck aggressive enough to get your opponent in range of cards like Lava Axe and Goblin Grenade. If you’re going Green, make sure to draft a deck with fast creatures and cards like Titanic Growth so you can compensate for not having much removal or evasion.
Obviously, most of the time you’ll be drafting two colors, but that doesn’t change the importance of drafting with your overall deck in mind. You should consider the same types of principles. Red and Black both like to activate Bloodthirst, and both like Devouring Swarm. Blue can help make Griffin Rider or Goblin Grenade work. Red or Blue can help Green overcome its weaknesses and exploit its strengths. Whether you’re drafting one or two colors, remember to keep in mind what’s best for your deck and not just what’s the best card in the pack in your color is. Mana-curve, synergy, and balance of creatures, removal, and other spells are all things to keep in mind with each pick.