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Unraveling Mystery Drafts

With the release of Mystery Draft to LGS, I wanted to break from my normal topics to briefly go over both the appeal of Mystery Draft and some general tips about the format. First off, I want to say that playing Mystery Draft at Reno was some of the most fun I’ve had playing Magic in years. The situations and games that arose were some of the most original and interesting to navigate that I’ve played in at least a year. The design team behind the format did an amazing job of keeping things fresh, interesting and replayable. Just looking at the sheer breadth of things to be doing at various tables in the Mystery Draft section of the room really makes me excited to keep drafting this format down the line.

If you enjoy Draft as a format and especially if you enjoy Cube or Chaos Draft, I highly recommend giving the set a spin. For a format that’s effectively impossible to balance I didn’t see a whole lot of things that made me tear my hair out, especially compared to jamming Theros Beyond Death Limited recently. The other big thing is most of the big splashy bombs have some resemblance of fun and uniqueness to them. Seeing a Puresteel Angel on the other side of the table was one of amusement, rather than an abject misery at what was about to happen. Even without the wild swings of the playtest cards though, there will be broken things happening and they will tend to be more interesting than a Dream Trawler

Drafting this format is much closer to Cube than other formats.

While you have a massive pool of cards to take from, the best decks I saw in Mystery Draft often revolved around building around synergies and themes. Even decks with spectacularly powerful cards really get a boost from building around them early compared to just throwing together two color good stuff. While this feels like a Chaos Draft at times with the sheer variety of cards you may run into, there’s enough overlap that some things are going to remain the same pack to pack and even draft to draft. 

So bearing in mind this is the closest to a cross of Cube and Chaos, you often want to draft for overall themes and letting specific synergies show up rather than trying to snipe them early and hoping they come around. For example, Archaeomancer is a card that’s good in general in UB and UR configurations, but jumps up a lot in value with Peel from Reality as a soft lock. Stuff like Retraction Helix is fine in general, but also gets a minor bump because Horseshoe Crab* is kicking around which turns it into a one-sided Whelming Wave. I’ll grab Retraction Helix early in a blue tempo deck, but Crab is often something I’ll pass around unless I already know I can use it. 

*It makes me unreasonably happy that I can equip a Horseshoe Crab with Heavy Arbalest in this format.

Speaking of bouncing permanents

One of the biggest things is looking for overarching themes that can reinforce each other the more you draft of it. You may only see one Vapor Snag or Peel from Reality, but if you want bounce effects, you could easily see 6-8 similarly playable bounce spells in a Draft. My 3-0 Izzet Tempo deck from Reno sported five good bounce spells and nearly 10 cards specifically buying me time. My opponent in the finals of that Draft had a similar number of removal spells, including so many Unlicensed Disintegration you’d think Mardu Vehicles was a viable Draft choice. 

Just for reference here was my 3-0 Draft deck from Reno:

Building around a single card may not be a worthwhile endeavour, however building around a power card that lends itself to certain classes of card is. If you draft a Mizzix’s Mastery then you likely want to skew toward instants and sorceries, which also increases the stock of cards like Archaeomancer and similar buyback like Crystal Shard and Peel from Reality. Ancestral Mask is going to point you toward auras (Rancor being the best) and cards that can hold them well. Phyexian Plaguelord, Skullclamp and Plaguecrafter want tons of cheap creature fodder and so on. You’re ideally building decks with a smattering of support cards and not just a good stuff deck.

While this is not a particularly aggressive format, tempo still matters a great deal and games can effectively end on turn 3/4 if you aren’t prepared. If you plan on playing for a late game (and many decks will), it’s important to still have at least 3-4 early answers to something as simple as a Fiery Hellhound or similar scaling threat. Lingering Souls is an example of a self-contained threat that can just KO certain decks by casting it and flashing it back as your turn 3/4 play. 

Good removal is still at a premium and general answers are worth more in this format than others due to the sheer range of threats players have access to. Besides planeswalkers, it isn’t uncommon for a ‘normal’ deck to have power cards of all types kicking around. Creature removal is still tops but you can easily maindeck artifact and enchantment kill and it’ll rarely end up completely dead. Things similar to Oblivion Ring as a catchall answer also go up in value as a result.

Don’t try to play around everything.

Realistically you won’t even remember every single way you can get blown out but it’s a fool’s errand to try and play around every subset of a card at a specific mana cost. Casting a spell into two mana? Potential counters include Counterspell, Mana Leak, Daze, Negate, Condescend, Dispel, Syncopate, Arcane Denial, Essence Scatter, Flashfreeze, Blue Elemental Blast and I’m sure there’s another few conditional ones I’m forgetting. Unless you’ve seen the card in your opponents deck or can afford to play around a certain swath of answers (Say holding mana open to pay for X counters), it often ends up better to just be proactive.

The balance of the power/toughness ratio of the set as a whole largely seems to skew toward trading and defenders advantage with a handful of notable exceptions. Obviously I have a small sample size of watching / playing games of the format, but I never felt particularly outclassed by cards at the common and uncommon level with just the usual array of 1/1, 2/2 and X/4 creatures. Green may be the one exception because the pump spells are cheap and powerful while cards like Hooting Mandrills and such provide a slightly bigger body than you’d normally see. Of course don’t forget about the eldrazi as there’s a few giants at uncommon that are going to show up as control or ramp finishers and end the game in short order.

Above all, I want to encourage people to have fun with it.

Don’t take it too seriously and not only will you enjoy the games a lot more, but handle odd situations better mentally. You’ll drive yourself nuts if you try to go in with a firm plan and then the RNG of the packs isn’t in your favor. Or if you had the nuts deck and lose to something completely out of left field. In that particular way, the lack of playtest cards are going to make things a little less interesting, but a bit fairer in power level. Turns out, a player having a Reflected Lotus or Form of the Mulldrifter makes for some real uphill climbs. 

Point is though, the point of the product is going to encourage different types of players to come down and try it out and enjoy the wide variety of drafts, decks and board states. Have fun and let everyone else have fun as well. 

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