Innistrad raised a pretty high bar for this Limited block and, unfortunately, Avacyn Restored hasn’t really lived up to the expectation. Still, it seems I like the format more than most people - it’s not great, but I don’t think it’s horrible. Today I’ll go over some of the points that I think are important for you to understand this draft format, and then an overview on the colors. I’ll try to focus on what is better or worse than it seems, since if I think the card is exactly as good as it appears to be, then, well, it probably won’t be hard to figure out!
- There are no archetypes
This is kind of an exaggeration - obviously there are archetypes - but this is so different than previous draft formats that I think the exaggeration is warranted to get the point across. For most of the past decade, there were very specific archetypes and color combinations that you wanted or didn’t want to be in - in Innistrad, for example, you could be Spider Spawning, Burning Vengeance, GW aggro, BR aggro, but you did not want to be GW control, UB aggro or WR anything, because the cards just weren’t there. In Avacyn Restored, you can be almost any color combination, and you can be control or aggro in any of them. That’s very interesting, because previous picks don’t restrain you as much when it comes to choosing a second color or a strategy, as pretty much anything is fair game.
- There are no playables
When you you start playing this format, the first thing that jumps at you is how horrendous most of the cards are. It’s not that they’re “bad” - they’re actually unplayable. As a general rule, you will get your 20-24 good cards - the playables in this set are not any worse than the playables in other sets - but that’s it, and everything else in your sideboard will be completely unplayable. The main effect this has in the format is that you can’t reliably bounce between colors, or you will end up without 23 cards, and if you do, you will have to play more lands because there are very few fillers. This doesn’t mean you need to commit wholeheartedly to your first pick, but you should make an effort not to have four colors in your first four picks - just picking the best card in a color for pack one, for example, is a good strategy. Switching colors in pack two is really risky, as you might find yourself with 18 playables and then you can’t do anything about it. I foresee many decks with 19 lands in this format...
- Soulbond is better than you think it is
In the dark, if you haven’t played a lot with the set, I’d say you underestimate every single soulbond card, other than the Protection from Zombies one, which could not possibly be underestimated since he is the worst (or maybe I just underestimate him as well?). Those guys are all solid creatures on their own, and they make your other guys much better - they’re like equipments with legs, and they’ll rarely get killed mid combat since there are not a lot of instant removal spells. They also add a lot of complexity and interesting board states, and for that I like the mechanic very much.
- Miracles are very annoying to play with and against
Most cards with Miracle are very broken, but that is not why I dislike them - mechanically speaking, they’re just very hard to play. I’ve been playing Magic for like 15 years, and I’ve always drawn cards the exact same way. Now, all of a sudden, I have to start doing something radically different, and not only that, I have to watch to make sure you’re doing it too, because if you put the card in your hand, I want to be able to tell. If our testing was the Pro Tour, I would have missed over half my Miracle triggers! Sure, now I got more used to them, but it’s still very annoying and I would not be surprised if I lost a match at the PT because I drew my Miracle card and was unable to cast it. I also expect a lot of confusion over whether the person actually “put the card in their hand” - it’s very easy to say “you did group it together” or “I did not, it was always clear this was the card”, and who’s to say who is right?
As far as playing with it goes, it’s actually very hard to conceal when you draw a miracle card. Theoretically speaking, you should always be thinking about it, but this is much easier said than done - in Constructed, you can do it (“If I draw Bonfire of the Damned, I’ll play it” does not take a very long time to think before you draw your card), but in Limited you will have many Miracle cards and the board state will change very rapidly, so you’ll have to reevaluate every turn. What if I have both the four +1/+1 counters card and Thunderous Wrath in my deck? I can’t possibly wonder “Do I want to play the spell? what will I target with my four counters this turn? What if it’s the 5 damage, what do I want to target then?” for every single turn of the game, at some point you will be caught unaware. If you decide to play the card, then no harm done, but if you don’t you’ve given it away. All of those combine with the fact that I hate them for what they actually do (TOO MUCH variance) to create the mechanic I dislike the most in recent memory. It’s actually much worse than Double Faced cards, because I could understand the appeal of those - they were annoying to draft and sleeve, but they had an upside, they were cool and flavorful. Miracles have a much bigger downside and a much smaller upside, so I really don’t see the point of them.
As far as actual strategy, two things - first, be aware that you do not have to Miracle. Some of the cards are very situational, and it’s better to just wait - don’t go around playing the +6/+6 trample lure card to kill their 1/1 just because you happened to draw it, don’t dome them for 5 with Thunderous Wrath on turn three just because you can. Sometimes, sure, do it, but know that it’s an optional. Second, if you have Miracles and your deck and instant card drawing (Alchemist's Apprentice, Mad Prophet, Fleeting Distraction), it’s sometimes better to wait and draw on their turn, so that you can Miracle something out of it.
- Some games are super slow, but some games are super fast, and I think you want to be fast
When I first saw the spoiler, I thought we were back to Rise of the Eldrazi, with all those Angels and whatnot. The truth is, sometimes we are, but that is not how I would define the format - many games are actually quite fast, especially when Green is involved. In my first draft, I would have picked the 5/5 Behemoth that Overruns very early, for example, but nowadays I will happily pick the common +1/+1 Soulbond guy over it, because I don’t actually expect to reach 8 mana in most games. Rise was not only glacially slow but also had a ton of acceleration, and this format is both faster and without acceleration, so do not make the mistake of picking Archangels left and right (as I’m writing this, Shuhei just is just passing an Archangel for a 2/1 Vigillance for 1W). I like aggressive decks much more than control decks in this format, and that leads to me taking two drops at a premium; every color has them, but not a whole lot, and I’ll pick both Wandering Wolf and Timberland Guide over Nettle Swine if I don’t have many two drops already, for example, even though they are not particularly good cards.
Let’s move onto the colors:
In my opinion, green is the best color in Avacyn Restored. Some people think it’s Blue, and that could definitely be right, but right now I like Green more. That is due to a multitude of reasons, but it’s mainly Soulbond - Druid's Familiar is probably the best uncommon in the set, and the Soulbond common guy that gives +1/+1 is one of the top 3 commons (along with Mist Raven and the 2/4 Flier with Lifelink), and people don’t value him as highly as they should, at least not now. You get good creatures in every spot of the curve, including the highly valued two drop, and all your pump effects make combat a nightmare for your opponent - not necessarily once you’re in combat, since they’re mostly sorcery speed, but it’s hard to know what to keep back against a green deck because they could give their guys +1/+1, +2/+2 or +4/+4 out of nowhere. If you’re Green, you generally want to be aggressive, but you don’t have to - 7/7s for 6 are bigger than what most control decks are trying to do anyway, for example. Triumph of Ferocity is also a big sleeper - the fact that you draw in a tie means it’ll break most even games, as it’s very hard to trump a two power guy even on turn three for most decks, and once you play a 4/3 most decks can’t actually trump you. Plus, the picture is awesome!
Black is by far the worst color in the set, and it’s rare that I dislike a color in a draft format as much as I dislike it here. It has one premium common, Death Wind, and everything else is very mediocre. To add insult to injury, the only landwalker in the format is a Swampwalker (and he is very maindackable), and some of the cards are randomly good against your creature types. Driver of the Dead looks like he would be fine, but he is not very good - there is nothing interesting to return with him, the stats are bad and if it’s important they just won’t kill it. The one card that was surprisingly good was Butcher Ghoul, which is much better than Young Wolf ever was, but the only reason for that is Black’s bad cards - if it had good cards rather than ones that make you sacrifice your own permanents, then Ghoul would be bad as well. Homicidal Seclusion is much better than it looks at first, but it is not for every deck - if you get it early, draft accordingly.
Blue is the second best color (or the best, depending on who you’re talking to), and that is mainly due to the strength of its commons - it has the best common, Mist Raven, as well as Gryff Vanguard and the underrated Wingcrafter, as well as one of the few ways to break Soulbond mid-combat (Peel from Reality). Amass the Components is a little overrated at first - it’s not as good as Compulsive Research was in Ravnica because the format is potentially a lot faster.
White has a premium common, Seraph of Dawn, and a bunch of two drops. I feel that Nearheath Pilgrim is somewhat of an underrated Uncommon, being much better than he looks at first and incredibly hard to race - every two casting cost creature in the set is playable, and he is an actively good one. The Seraph, though obviously good, is not as good as it initially appears, because you will face some decks that are very slow (in which case the card is not that good), and some of the fast decks can either ignore it, because they’re Green and have bigger bodies, or play stuff like Thunderbolt and Fervent Cathars (i.e. it’s not a Nighthawk). The one drop that gains life is actually playable, since it blocks most of the aggressive stuff (and so is the Red one, for that matter), and so is the Swampwalker, but Devout Chaplain and Holy Justiciar are both really bad.
I think this is the worst of the “middle” colors, but it’s still decent. Pillar of Flame is a fine card but not overwhelmingly good, and the guys are all solid and pretty interchangeable depending on what you already have. Heirs of Stromkirk is somewhat of a sleeper common here, as I think he’s much better than people give him credit for (better than the other four casting cost common Vampire for sure). Thunderbolt is also very maindeckable, as most Red decks will like the ability to go for the dome anyway, and killing a flier with it is huge because they generally don’t expect their big fliers to die. The one gimmick deck you can draft in the set involves Thatcher Revolt and Vigilante Justice, none of which is particularly playable outside of context but could be good. Still, I think I’d only play that if I had more synergy - either a bunch of the guys that pump Humans, a couple Bone Splinters, etc. Goldnight Commander plus Revolt is also obviously unbeatable.
Well, this is about it - I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you next week!