It’s harder to get an edge in Magic Origins Limited than other recent formats. When doing in-house drafts with TeamCFB in Las Vegas for PT testing, my decks would often look mediocre, due to the relative lower density of strong playables in any given pack. Yet, over time I recognized trends and learned some essential lessons to help lead to more consistent decks which I’ll share with you today.
#1 – Trainwrecks Are More Common in Magic Origins
In many recent sets, if you end up in the same colors as the player passing to you, you’ll have a bad deck, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a complete trainwreck. Colors can usually be drafted defensively or aggressively, and adjacent drafters might even have two good decks in the same color pair if they are drafting slightly different archetypes within a color pair. Additionally, getting the 2nd-best card in a color consistently could still work out in more powerful colors. A recent example of this was drafting white in M15. The color was so deep that even if you were white behind the drafter to your right, you could still draft a very good deck and just hope to get all your Triplicate Spirits in pack 2.
However, the shallow card quality present in Magic Origins makes this much more of an issue. Getting into open colors is even more important than normal and the payoffs are much higher. The gold uncommons are all very good and you can get any that are opened if you’re the only one in that color pair. Since the set lacks good synergy payoffs, strong power cards that go later in your colors will be a massive boon to your deck.
The tricky part is exploring enough in the draft to find the open colors without wasting too many picks. If you wait too long in pack 1 you simply won’t have enough playables to fill out a strong deck. Look at picks 4-7 to see if any solid commons are still in the pack. Cards like Rhox Maulers, Watercourser, and Charging Griffin can indicate a potential open color. I find at that point that those cards will be part of my base color since they’ll be more readily available and that my secondary color will be more determined by powerful cards I see in the first few picks from each pack.
#2 – The Good Cards Are Leagues Above the Average Cards
The main complaint from the player base during Fate Reforged was that its rares were too good. That isn’t the case with Magic Origins, since many of the rares are flops, but the best rares, uncommons, and even commons are much better than the next tier of cards. The top rares like Kothophed and Tragic Arrogance are just much more powerful than most, and Whirler Rogue and Sentinel of the Eternal Watch could easily be rare based on how powerful they are in-game.
TeamCFB found that the best commons in each color are Suppression Bonds, Claustrophobia, Reave Soul, Fiery Impulse, and Wild Instincts. If we look at the next best commons in each color we get Topan Freeblade followed by Stalwart Aven, Separatist Voidmage followed by Watercourser, Unholy Hunger followed by Read the Bones, Lightning Javelin followed by Akroan Sergeant, and Leaf Gilder followed by Rhox Maulers. If you just look at the 3rd best common in each color you can see how quickly the depth of cards falls off, which means that each extra first-pickable card you get passed in pack 2 or 3 by being in the open colors is even more valuable than in a normal set. The average card just can’t compete well with the top ones.
#3 – The Format Is Fast—but it Isn’t Gatecrash Fast
Gatecrash was all about 2-drops. When given the choice in that format, it was more often than not better to just take the cheapest card. That approach has been touted as the way to approach Magic Origins, and it is true to some extent. If you’re on the draw and you don’t play a 2-drop creature, you’re very likely to lose the game. Renown, cheap combat tricks, and tempo spells can all keep you on the back foot before you can ever stabilize and the game will be over in the blink of an eye. But if everyone is prioritizing 2-drops, then what happens? You cast your high-pick Topan Freeblade, and your opponent plays any 2-power blocker to stop it. You can’t attack. The game goes on.
I found this scenario to be quite common and as long as everyone comes to the table prepared to avoid getting run over, games of Magic Origins are not blisteringly fast. The best approach I have found is to have enough early game to apply some pressure or help you survive and then have a way to win the mid and late game. The most frequent ways to do this are bomb rares/uncommons, or ways to break up board stalls. Some examples are flying creatures, Joraga Invocation, Rogue’s Passage, or hard-to-block attackers like Prickleboar.
#4 – Combat Tricks Are Your Removal When You’re Attacking
Topan Freeblade is one of the premium white commons, but is entirely mediocre if it’s not renowned. Your opponent will always block it to keep it from becoming renowned, and thus combat tricks will end up trading for an early creature or help make profitable attacks later in the game. Because the opponent will block early, the 1-mana tricks are a much higher priority than 2-mana tricks. They allow you to follow up with another cheap threat to build board presence. This way your entire turn isn’t wasted and one or two follow-up spells can be enough tempo to help overrun an opponent who is unable to stabilize.
#5 – Each Color Has Vastly Different Draft Priorities
Often a set will have many options across color pairs such that you can draft a well-rounded deck with a decent curve despite your color combination. In Khans of Tarkir block draft, morph made it so that no matter what color combination you were in, you wouldn’t need to worry about how to fill out the 3-drop slot, and you knew you’d have plenty to do with your mana later in the game. This isn’t true in Magic Origins. Each color has some draft strengths and weaknesses you should know about when you’re making your card selections as the colors all draft quite differently.
White’s greatest strength is its massive amount of strong uncommons relative to the other colors. I’d be happy first-picking Sentinel of the Eternal Watch, Consul’s Lieutenant, Knightly Valor, Patron of the Valiant, War Oracle, and even Totem-Guide Hartebeest at times, while the other colors only get 1-3 premium uncommons. This strength can also lead to white being overdrafted though, since more first-pickable cards will incentivize more players to jump in early. Make sure you don’t get too committed too early. This does allow for white to be a very strong second color consistently. Outside of Consul’s Lieutenant, which requires a heavy white commitment, you can be based in another color and get a couple good white cards per pack and end up in a strong deck without actually having all that many white cards. In these types of decks, each white card included will carry a lot of weight despite fewer overall white cards in your deck.
Blue has the exact opposite problem. Watercourser is the third-best blue common and Claustrophobia is the best blue common, but requires a heavy blue commitment. Blue has three great uncommons in Whirler Rogue, Sigiled Starfish, and Jhessian Thief, but falls off hard after that. For this reason, I avoid blue since it dries up so quickly. Unless it is specifically underdrafted I don’t really want to be in blue because more often than not, I find the card quality just isn’t high enough in the middle of the packs.
Black has a lot of decent commons but its uncommons are severely lacking. Cruel Revival is a slightly improved Unholy Hunger and then there really isn’t much else. Black also lacks 2-drops that block well early. Fetid Imp is great, but isn’t the type of card you want against opposing 2/2s, and Shambling Ghoul is very lackluster on the draw. Early defense is ironically best gained from other colors better positioned to attack. The benefit of a good black deck is that it has some of the best card advantage engines in the format and will be favored in a grindy game.
Red is all about 3-drops. Akroan Sergeant, Boggart Brute, and Ghirapur Gearcrafter are all excellent, and it often doesn’t matter which ones you end up with. For this reason I try to wait on 3-drops when I’m drafting red since I know I can get them later and try to fill other holes my deck has first. I’ve found Subterranean Scout to overperform as a fine early creature that is still relevant into the late game, and if your deck is set up for it, Mage-Ring Bully can be completely reasonable, especially if you prioritize 1-drop tricks as I mentioned earlier.
Lastly, green is all about depth. I mentioned earlier that this set lacks depth, but green is the one exception. It has about double the number of playable commons, even though none of its commons are that exciting. It makes for a strong base color and can reasonably pair with any of the other colors, though in testing we found RG to be the worst of the green decks. Rhox Maulers continues to impress me the more and more I play with it since there really isn’t anything else that big for the cost. With green, I just try and have a reasonable curve since it won’t matter too much whether your 23rd card is a Llanowar Empath or a Yeva’s Forcemage since they’re both fine but unexciting.
Whew! There’s a ton to learn every time a new set comes out, and I know this is only the beginning. As the metagame develops the best colors to draft will shift, but for now, focus on drafting a solid deck, try your best to avoid a trainwreck, and have fun drafting! Let me know in the comments if there’s anything else you think I missed.