My current record in Theros drafts is 44-19, including a 6-0 spike at Pro Tour Theros. So, I feel like I have a good grasp of the current draft format. Especially since most of those drafts featured tough opposition: I continually had Platinum-level pros and Pro Tour winners at my table. Indeed, to prepare for the Limited portion of Pro Tour Theros, I spent five days in Prague to draft with Martin Juza, Stanislav Cifka, Lukas Jaklovsky, Ivan Floch, and several other top players. We did three drafts per day, had a good time, and learned a lot.
Today, I will to share my ideas on Theros Limited. To make things concrete, I have distilled my views into a list. I always find it useful to look at all the cards and rank them from high to low. The main aim of such a list is to structure my thoughts into a coherent ordering. I do not advocate mindlessly following the list and picking the highest-ranked card for the entire duration of the draft. That would be silly, as card valuations change continually as you pick more cards. Synergies, mana curve considerations, and colors drafted thus far play an important role in making your draft picks.
Nevertheless, a ranking can aid the first-pick-first-pack decisions. Moreover, it can give a general idea of how powerful each card is, and it may spawn discussion. That's why I like it, and I hope you find it useful, too.
Pick Order for Single-Colored Cards
Before ranking individual cards, let me rank the colors. In Theros Limited, I have the colors ranked as follows:
Blue > green > black > white > red
I should note that this color ranking has a small influence on my pick orders. Because my list aims to be accurate for the first-pick-first-pack decision, I have red cards such as [card]Lightning Strike[/card] slightly lower than they would be in other formats. On sheer power alone, [card]Lightning Strike[/card] may be the best common. But because red is the worst color, [card]Lightning Strike[/card] is placed a bit lower. I don't mind drafting it—in fact, I'm fine with drafting every color or two-color combination—but if the decision is close, then I prefer a non-red card as my first pick.
Another card that is difficult to put in a list is [card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card]. It is one of the most powerful commons in the set, but only if you're heavy black. And a draft can generally only support one or two black devotion drafters. If more than two people try to go that route, then their decks will usually turn out horrible. The problem is that once you've passed a Gray Merchant, then it will be difficult to move in later when black appears to be open. So, my approach (which is in line with Ben Stark's approach) is to take Gray Merchant early—that's why it's high in my pick order list—as a speculative pick. I then forget about it while simply drafting the best card in the booster for the next few picks. If I don't see black flowing, then I'll abandon ship and switch to another color. However, if I do receive a string of premium black commons, then I'll move in and be happy with my Gray Merchant.
While I can rank cards like [card]Lightning Strike[/card] and [card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card] for the first-pick-first-pack decision, the ranking becomes more fluid the lower we go in the pick order list. By the time you may wish to take, say, [card]Chosen by Heliod[/card], you know whether you are going heroic or not and how important that enchantment is to your strategy. Even though it is difficult to assign an abstract ranking to those cards, I gave it my best shot.
Okay, now on to my pick order list that ranks cards from high to low. I introduced separate categories to make the entire list easier to read and remember, but you can think of it as one whole list. To illustrate, the idea is that if my first pack of the draft would contain [card]Fabled Hero[/card], [card]Keepsake Gorgon[/card], [card]Voyage's End[/card], and [card]Leafcrown Dryad[/card], then I would pick [card]Fabled Hero[/card]. Take out the heroic creature, and I'd pick [card]Keepsake Gorgon[/card]. Take that one out, and I'll take [card]Voyage's End[/card]. And so on.
Rares that are better than the top commons, but worse than the top uncommons:
The top commons and uncommons/rares of similar quality:
A batch of uncommons/rares that are slightly worse than the top commons:
The good commons and uncommon/rares of similar quality:
A batch of combat tricks and enchantments that you don't want too many of:
Playable creatures and spells:
Cards I usually leave in the sideboard:
Pick Order List for Multicolored Cards
Besides the single-colored cards shown above, Theros is also home to a number of multi-colored cards. (I include single-colored cards with an activation cost in another color in this category as well.) Especially early in the draft, you can face a difficult decision between a multicolored card and keeping your colors open. My general philosophy is to favor flexibility by picking a weaker single-colored card over a stronger multi-colored card, unless the multicolored card is substantially better. To make that more concrete, I ranked the various multicolored cards below. Here, “top commons” refers to [card]Voyage's End[/card], [card]Lightning Strike[/card], etc., while “good commons” refers to [card]Time to Feed[/card], [card]Vaporkin[/card], etc.
First-pickable multicolored cards that I take over all top commons:
Solid multicolored cards that I take below the top commons, but over the good commons
Decent multi-colored cards that I take below the good commons
Twenty Thoughts on Theros Limited
To conclude this article, I have twenty quick ideas about combos in Theros Limited and the draft format as a whole.
1) In a format with bestow, lifelink and double strike become more important. As a result, [card]Two-Headed Cerberus[/card] and [card]Insatiable Harpy[/card] are higher in my pick order list than they would be in other formats. Note that these creatures also combo nicely with [card]Scourgemark[/card] and [card]Dragon Mantle[/card].
2) [card]Voyage's End[/card] and [card]Griptide[/card] can become hard removal spells when paired with [card]Disciple of Phenax[/card] and [card]Returned Centaur[/card], respectively.
3) If you drafted a [card]Nemesis of Mortals[/card], then [card]Satyr Hedonist[/card] and [card]Commune with the Gods[/card] shoot up in value.
4) If you have a [card]Sealock Monster[/card] in play and a [card]Nylea's Presence[/card] in hand, then you can turn an opponent's land into an Island and attack with your [card]Sealock Monster[/card].
5) The best Humans to send to the air with [card]Cavalry Pegasus[/card] are [card]Akroan Hoplite[/card], [card]Daxos of Meletis[/card], and [card]Staunch-Hearted Warrior[/card].
6) Untapping [card]Karametra's Acolyte[/card] with [card]Triton Tactics[/card] or [card]Savage Surge[/card] can sometimes lead to insane mana boosts.
7) Green and red both have lots of 4-drops, so pick them lower if you're in both colors.
8) If I counted correctly, then in every draft you have 2.4 copies of every common and 1.2 copies of every uncommon on average. At the same time, with 10 two-color combinations and 8 drafters, you're frequently the only one at the table drafting a certain color combination. So, it can pay off to plan ahead for your gold common and uncommon. For instance, if you're green/white, then you will often receive a [card]Chronicler of Heroes[/card], so take that [card]Staunch-Hearted Warrior[/card] slightly higher.
9) Red/black has a minor Minotaur theme going on with [card]Kragma Warcaller[/card] as a standout. Take cards like [card]Fellhide Minotaur[/card] higher if you're in both colors. An often overlooked fact is that [card]Fanatic of Mogis[/card] is a Minotaur as well.
10) Green/red and blue/red rewards you the least in terms of multicolored cards.
11) When in doubt between a card that costs five or more mana and a card that costs less than five mana, my tiebreaker is to go for the cheaper card. Expensive cards tend to be weak, as you usually want to be activating monstrosity or using bestow at that point in the game.
12) The Gods are not bombs in Limited because it is often difficult to attain enough devotion to turn them on. [card]Heliod, God of the Sun[/card] still has great static abilities, so it's always playable, but I've had black decks with [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card] in the sideboard. Of course, if you can pick them early, then you can prioritize devotion during the rest of the draft.
13) 5 toughness is the magic number with [card]Lash of the Whip[/card] and [card]Rage of Purphoros[/card] at common. As a result, [card]Nessian Asp[/card] is even better than you might think.
14) The average converted mana cost of playable commons in blue, green, and black is relatively high: it's over three. In contrast, the average converted mana cost of playable commons in red and white is lower than three. As a result, those colors tend to be more aggressive.
15) Green, blue, and white have the relevant heroic creatures. Red and black have almost none. Keep this in mind when deciding on combat tricks or bestow creatures.
16) You can never have enough bestow creatures. It is important to remember that white and black have two bestow creatures at common, whereas all other colors only have one.
17) Packs tend to be deep, so you will usually end up with enough playables after switching to a different color in pack one. Feel free to read the signals and adjust accordingly.
18) Deathtouch creatures ([card]Sedge Scorpion[/card] and [card]Baleful Eidolon[/card]) are excellent answers to the Ordeals. As a result, they are ranked higher than they would be in other Limited formats.
19) The format is relatively fast and tempo-oriented. It's definitely much different from M14 draft. Emphasize a good mana curve.
20) Finally, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give for Limited play in general, and for this set in particular, is the following: Use your sideboard!
Don't lose out on the opportunity to tweak your deck. Personally, I tend to board four cards per match on average. That's a lot, but I believe it's an important part of my success. Sideboarding starts with the obvious cards like [card]Annul[/card], [card]Last Breath[/card], [card]Shredding Winds[/card], and [card]Dark Betrayal[/card], but it goes deeper than that. I frequently board in “bad” cards like [card]Benthic Giant[/card] (to block [card]Heliod's Emissary[/card] and other medium-sized ground critters), [card]Bronze Sable[/card] (when my opponent is trying to swarm me with [card]Leonin Snarecaster[/card] and friends), [card]Ephara's Warden[/card] (to tap down [card]Prescient Chimera[/card]), [card]Flamecast Wheel[/card] (when my opponent has [card]Kragma Warcaller[/card]), and so on.
Perhaps even more important than the cards to put in are the cards to take out. Make sure you identify which cards match up poorly against your opponent's deck. For example, take out [card]Read the Bones[/card], [card]Vaporkin[/card], or [card]Sea God's Revenge[/card] when playing against an aggressive red/white deck. Take out [card]Satyr Rambler[/card] when your opponent has [card]Omenspeaker[/card] and [card]Wavecrash Triton[/card]. Take out [card]Cavern Lampad[/card] against another heavy-black deck. Take out Ordeals if your opponent has multiple [card]Griptide[/card]s or [card]Sedge Scorpion[/card]s. Take out [card]Pharika's Cure[/card] if you didn't see any 2-toughness creatures, and take out [card]Pheres-Band Centaurs[/card] if your opponent's game plan resolves around flyers. You should also consider adding a third color if you expect the matchup to be slow and grindy, and you should remove your splash color if the games are going to be too fast.
Overall, the key is to envision how the games are going to shape up based on your opponent's deck, and to reevaluate every single card in your pool. A pick order list is nice and all, but in the end, card valuations change massively depending on what your opponent is doing. Sometimes, it is correct to board out [card]Sea God's Revenge[/card] for [card]Benthic Giant[/card].
I would like to thank Shuhei Nakamura, who masterfully won the Theros Limited Grand Prix in Hong Kong last weekend, for being kind enough to share his insight on the relative valuations of certain cards while I was typing up my pick order list. However, even though I adjusted the ranking of certain cards based on Shuhei's experiences, the final pick order list is mine. If you have any questions or believe that a card is ranked much too high or too low, then feel free to yell at me in the comments!