When drafting, a player has two basic strategic options; they can draft a “good stuff” deck, or they can draft a deck based on synergy and interaction. A good stuff deck would involve simply taking the best on-color card each pick during the draft, whereas a synergistic deck may sacrifice card quality for power of interaction.
From Scars draft, Luis’s Sky-Eel School archetype is a great example of a good stuff deck. On the other hand, Metalcraft decks are more synergy based. In Metalcraft, you may have to take an extra artifact over a removal spell, just to make sure your Wild Nacatl, Serra Avenger, and Falter + Lava Axe are on, whereas in the Sky-Eel School archetype, you would basically never pass a removal spell (except maybe for a bomb).
Because cards for core sets were only taken from older sets, core sets never used to have themes like metalcraft. Thus, every draft deck was a good stuff deck. However, with the recent addition of new cards in core sets, Wizards of the Coast can now create subthemes in core sets. This makes drafting M11 and 12 much more enjoyable than past core sets. Today, I’m going to go over some of the thematic options you have in M12 set draft.
Griffin Rider: There are three Griffins to go along with this bad boy, all of which are common (Griffin Sentinel, Assault Griffin, and Peregrine Griffin). On the one hand, it’s nice that all three Griffins are playable, but it does mean that other players want them so you will get less of them in an average draft than you would if they were unplayable. I think the general rule with this guy is you want at least three and preferably four or five Griffins to make Griffin Rider playable.
One of the biggest problems with this archetype is spot removal. If you draw a Griffin Sentinel and a Rider and get your Sentinel Incinerated, it can be a huge blowout (especially if it happens after attacks are declared). Thus, cards like Stave Off are particularly good in this kind of deck.
As far as support colors, I think Blue is going to be the best. Ponder and Merfolk Looter can help you dig for a Griffin, and Negate can help solve the removal problem. In addition, Blue offers more fliers, which fits perfectly with your plan.
While we are on the theme of white synergies, I figured I should mention Mesa Enchantress. There are three cards that mention Enchantments in the set. Auramancer has really impressed me even in normal decks and may be my pick for one of the more underrated card in the set.
For Mesa Enchantress, you have to go a little bit deeper. Because the Enchantress’s body is so weak, you really have to draw at least two cards off of it over the course of the game for it to be value. In order for it to be worth playing, you probably want four or five Enchantments to support it. In order to play four or five Enchantments without embarrassing yourself (too much) you want to get as many removal enchantments as you can. Obviously, you can’t just get three Pacifisms or Oblivion Rings since everyone else is going to be fighting over them. Instead, you are going to have to look to some lesser Enchantments. Now I’m not suggesting you play Flight or something, (though I have, when desperate) but cards like Divine Favor are huge for the Enchantress deck. The deck tends to be defensive and tends to have ways to protect creatures, so getting a giant wall and gaining some life is pretty effective. In addition, enchant creatures work better with Auramancer than other Enchantments because they are more likely to hit the graveyard.
Another sweet Enchantment that hopefully doesn’t hit the graveyard too often is Ice Cage. Conveniently enough, Ice Cage leads you straight into blue: the color with good old Ponder and Merfolk Looter which just like in the Griffin deck, can allow you to skimp on the number of support pieces you have to play. Blue even offers the best enchantment in the set: Mind Control. You haven’t lived until you’ve slammed a Mind Control with a Mesa Enchantress out, traded with one of their guys, and then Auramancered it back.
Thran Golem can go into the Enchantress archetype, but because he specifically needs enchant creatures, he is more of a strategy of his own. You really only need two or three Enchant Creatures to play Thran Golem since he isn’t that bad of a body anyway. However, what is more important about drafting Thran Golem is making sure you have protection for your guys. There is a reason Enchant Creatures don’t see much play, and it’s not because they aren’t good enough when they do work. In order to make your enchant creatures good, take Sacred Wolf and Aven Fleetwing higher so that you can sometimes play around removal. In addition, make sure to pick up Duresses, Negates, and Stave Offs to make Thran play more like Thrun.
The next strategy is Illusions. Of course, when I say Illusions, I really mean Phantasmal Bears. By drafting a ton of Phantasmal Bears, you can create a deck with an incredibly aggressive draw. Your opponent will have no chance of racing a start like turn one Bear, turn two double Bear.
One potential problem with this strategy is that people are starting to realize that Phantasmal Bear is a real card, meaning as people start playing the set more it will be harder and harder to table them. If you are looking to draft bears you probably want to start as just an aggressive deck (or just windmill slam a Lord of the Unreal) and then slightly overrate Bears and start rating them higher and higher as you pick up more and more. Hopefully, by the end of the draft you will end up with five or six. Luis showed how powerful this could be when he beat Owen in a draft without playing a second land (turn one Bear turn two Bear turn three Bear turn four Unsummon).
The biggest obstacle of this archetype is that you NEED answers to perpetual targeters like Alluring Siren and Gideon’s Lawkeeper. Picking up non-Pacifism removal like Incinerate or Doom Blade is huge. Of course, the best answer to an Illusion based problem is the Illusion Arrest: Ice Cage. Then again, if you started drafting Bears because of a Lord of the Unreal, his Hexproof granting will solve the targeting problem too.
The last key to this archetype has nothing to do with strategy. However, it is crucial that whenever you play a turn one Phantasmal Bear you have to get your Mike Ditka voice out and say: “Da Bears!”
Of course, what would an Illusion deck be without a milling plan B? Milling decks are really built around the Rares. This may seem like a problem, but there are a lot of different powerful rares for milling, and you do have three packs to find rares that other people will not be looking for. Here are some of the sweet rares for milling:
Jace’s Archivist: You are almost certainly underrating this card. Not only is it absolutely insane in a mill deck, it is simply an incredibly powerful card in general. If you have cheaper cards than them it is pretty easy to empty your hand and then Windfall them into oblivion. Not only are they down a lot of card advantage in that case, they probably had mostly lands in play, and thus mostly spells in their hand there. If you want to go real deep, you can Unsummon their guy and then Windfall, and that’s just the biggest blowout of all time. Of course, Archivist is particularly good in a deck with Jace’s Erasure. Also, remember to use this guy at their draw step when appropriate to get even more cards.
Mind Unbound: While Mind Unbound doesn’t directly help mill them, it does do some very powerful things with Jace’s Erasure. With an Erasure out, Mind Unbound mills 1 then 2 then 3 additional cards. The other thing I wanted to mention about this card is that you probably shouldn’t play it in a deck that doesn’t have a way to make sure you don’t deck out. You want something like Oblivion Ring or even Disenchant (worth playing main if you have Mind Unbound) to answer it, or Erasures to mill them first.
Rites of Flourishing: Rites forces you to move into green, but it does something powerful enough that it can be worth it. Not only does it keep the gas flowing for you and help get through their deck faster, but like the above cards, it also has a ton of synergy with Jace’s Erasure.
Jace, Memory Adept: I wanted to mention this card because this is NOT a reason to go mill. You are going to win every game you draw this in any Blue deck, so you should still take Aether Adept over Merfolk Mesmerist after first picking Jace.
Now that you know the Rares that may make you want to move in on the archetype, let’s talk about the commons that support it.
Merfolk Mesmerist: This is by far in a way the best mill common, and the least gimmicky. Playing two Mesmerists is completely reasonable in any blue controlling deck. Of course, that means that if you want Mesmerists you are going to have to take them highly.
Jace’s Erasure: As you can see from the discussions of all the milling rares, this card gets MUCH better if you have powerful card draw. I don’t think a deck with 7 Jace’s Erasures and some defensive cards is going to win you many games, because even a curve like turn two Erasure turn three Erasure turn four double Erasure is easily raceable by an aggressive start. However, turn two Jace’s Erasure into turn two Rites of Flourishing might. Don’t commit to the all-in mill archetype unless you have a powerful mill card.
Fog/Frost Breath: Obviously, these aren’t direct mill cards, but they are pretty insane with the Howling Mine effects. Try to not to face a lethal attack for as long as possible, and then just cast a Fog every turn until they run out of cards once their attack is lethal. While Turbofog isn’t going to come together too often, it is pretty sweet when it does. I’ve had one Turbofog draft so far, and while it was sweet, I only 1-2d because I didn’t have enough defensive creatures and had to start Fogging too quickly.
Defensive creatures: Regardless of whether you are Fogging or not, it is incredibly important to draft defensive guys. Milling is not that fast, and its main benefit over normal damage is that it works even in stalled boards. You need to have cards like Amphin Cutthroat, Stonehorn Dignitary (if you want some white Fogs), and if you are lucky enough, Stingerfling Spider and Belltower Sphinx to make sure you don’t die.
As you can see, M12 gave us a lot of sweet options to draft less than ordinary decks. If you ever get bored of slamming Aether Adepts into Griffin Sentinels try something different. Slam Jace’s Archivist and follow it up with his Erasure. Attack with a 7/7 Hasty Flying Thran Golem wearing some [card Goblin War Paint]War Paint[/card]. Do something really powerful, and fun.