For the Limited portion of Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, I prepared in the Czech Republic by drafting with Lukas Blohon, Michael Bonde, Robin Dolar, Bart van Etten, Martin Juza, Thomas Hendriks, and Petr Sochurek. My average record in the 15 or so practice drafts that we did was about 2-1, so I felt confident going in to Grand Prix Mexico City and the Pro Tour. Things worked out well: I finished 21st at Grand Prix Mexico City and went 6-0 in the draft portion of the Pro Tour.
So what’s the key to the format? Keep it simple! This is not a huge synergy-driven format, so focus on drafting a 2-color deck with a decent mana curve, a consistent mana base, and a good mix between creatures and noncreatures. Don’t make things more difficult than necessary.
My Draft Approach
For the first two picks or so, simply pick the best card in the pack—this is exactly where my pick order list can guide you. For picks 3-5, if a pick is close, favor cards of a color that you have been drafting already, but remain flexible enough to jump into another color if you receive some goodies. Keep a mental note of the colors of the best cards you are passing to your left, because those colors may not be open during pack 2. But don’t spend too much brain power on this—signaling is overrated. Then, based on the cards you’ve received by picks 6-7, try to commit to 2 colors. Alternatively, you could draft a single color at first and postpone the choice for your second color until the start of the second pack, but that can be more difficult to execute correctly.
During the second and third pack, feel free to take bad cards over good cards in order to draft a coherent deck. That is, throw out the pick order list, and pay close attention to things like your mana base and creature curve. A good baseline to strive for is the following:
- Four 2-drop creatures
- Five 3-drop creatures
- Four 4-drop creatures
- Three 5-drop creatures or higher
- Seven spells (including some ways to break through a board stall)
- 17 lands
Mana Bases with Colorless Cards
For a main color, I am usually looking for 8-10 sources. The more early drops and double-colored cards I have, the more sources I’d want for that color. My requirements for colorless mana depend on how many “silver” cards (i.e., cards that require colorless mana) I have. I’ll provide two examples to illustrate.
In example #1, I have a blue/black deck with an Endbringer, an Essence Depleter, a Blinding Drone, and a Spatial Contortion. For those 4 silver cards, of which Endbringer and Spatial Contortion are most demanding on the mana base, I’d want to have 5 sources of colorless mana. The following 17-land mana base looks good to me:
- 7 Swamp
- 6 Island
- 1 Holdout Settlement
- 1 Unknown Shores
- 1 Crumbling Vestige
- 1 Wastes
- Plus 1 Cultivator Drone or 1 Seer’s Lantern
I tend to count the common colorless/colored fixing lands (Holdout Settlement, Unknown Shores, and Crumbling Vestige) as 2/3rds of a colored source each. So this mana base would yield 9 black sources, 8 blue sources, and 5 colorless sources. That’s sufficient. But if I only had 4 colorless sources for my Endbringer, Essence Depleter, Blinding Drone, and Spatial Contortion, then I would start to feel uncomfortable.
What this means is that if you’re drafting black or blue and have already picked up several silver cards in pack 1, you should try to have at least 2 colorless sources after pack 1 and at least 4 after pack 2. If it looks like you can’t make those numbers, then you should abandon ship and avoid the silver cards going forward. That’s better than continuing to draft them and ending up with a disastrous mana base.
A final thing to point out for this mana base is that thanks to Holdout Settlement, Unknown Shores, and Crumbling Vestige, you already have several free sources of any other color. So if you also a have a Cinder Barrens or don’t mind replacing a Swamp with a Mountain, then you could easily splash a bomb like Fall of the Titans in this deck. Mana fixing is great!
In Example #2, I have a red/green deck with only two cards that merely need colorless mana for activated abilities: 1 Maw of Kozilek and 1 Immobilizer Eldrazi. In this case, 2 sources could suffice, but I would not be happy to run Wastes in a deck with so few silver cards. Even if I had Evolving Wilds or Loam Larva to fetch it, every Wastes that is added to the deck comes at the cost of fewer green or red sources while providing only a minor payoff. But I would be satisfied with this mana base:
All in all, you have to balance colorless rewards with colorless fixing. Since there are about 5 Wastes per draft on average and they are weak overall, you shouldn’t take them highly. But the colorless/colored fixing lands are worth it because they also help out your colored mana consistency.
Color Preferences and Synergies
In our practice drafts, white was the best color (white decks had an overall win percentage of 53%) and blue was the worst color (blue decks had an overall win percentage of 46%). The regularly drafted color combinations that put up the best results were white/black Allies, white/red Allies, and red/green monsters. At the same time, we expected that most other Pro Tour competitors would come to similar conclusions, in which case white might be a little overdrafted and blue might actually be open. I was okay with drafting any 2-color combination if the colors were open. I wasn’t planning to pick blue cards early, but if it looked like there was only one other blue drafter at the table, then I’d move in.
Even though this is not a huge synergy-driven set, it can still help to have the overarching strategies of the various 2-color combinations and the changed evaluations of Battle for Zendikar cards in mind. Neal Oliver wrote a good series on that, so check that out if you haven’t done so yet.
Pick Order List
I’m not going to focus too much on how card evaluations change based on your color combination—I will instead rank cards for the first-pick-first-pack context. It is based on the power of the cards during game play—the monetary value is not taken into account. Multicolored cards are ranked relatively low because first-picking such a card leaves you with less flexibility to maneuver during the draft, and true colorless cards are ranked relatively high because they keep your options more open. I broke the list down into separate categories to make it easier to read and to allow me to intersperse some comments, but you can think of it as one continuous list if you like.
I would pick these cards over any common or uncommon. All of them can dominate a game. Since I tend to pick the colorless fixing lands relatively high, I usually end up with enough sources to support Endbringer or Reality Smasher, which means that it will almost always make my deck while keeping myself open to any colors that I might receive from my neighbor to the right.
Top Uncommons, Commons, and Good Rares
I was very impressed with the red uncommons. Embodiment of Fury packs a huge punch in the midgame, and Devour in Flames’ additional cost is often an upside. If you cast Devour in Flames on a turn where you lack a land drop otherwise, you get to replay the land for a free mana and a landfall trigger.
The nearly unconditional common and uncommon removal spells are pretty good too, and there are plenty of high-impact creatures in this category as well. The blue rares are ranked a little lower because I have a small preference toward avoiding that color.
I have Zada’s Commando as the best red common because it is red’s only common 2-drop. Boulder Salvo is great, too, but I prioritize locking up my 2-drop slots because red decks can have trouble with that otherwise.
I like Mirrorpool and Ruins of Oran-Rief as first picks because they are high-impact lands that I don’t mind running even as an 18th land and that keep me open. As the list indicates, I would take the best uncommons and commons over them, but I enjoy starting my draft with a land.
Solid Cards to Pick Early
I can see myself first-picking any of these cards out of a weak pack. This is a fairly fast format, which would typically dissuade me from taking a 6-drop or 7-drop first, but there are relatively few 5+ drops at common. Most colors have curves that top out with a single 5-drop at common, so I’ve seen plenty of draft decks that lacked a late-game presence. For that reason, taking an impactful 7-drop rare early is acceptable.
Thought-Knot Seer and Matter Reshaper are a bit worse than Reality Smasher, Endbringer, and Deceiver of Form because it can be more difficult to have access to colorless mana in the early game. If you typically only find a source by turn 5 or 6, then you might as well have a more impactful silver card at that stage of the game.
The gold “sign post” uncommons (such as Cliffhaven Vampire) are all very powerful in their respective archetypes, but you shouldn’t commit to that color combination immediately if you first-pick one of them out of a weak pack. You can take white or black cards a bit higher after you start the draft with a Cliffhaven Vampire, but don’t take Shoulder to Shoulder over Boulder Salvo next—early in the draft, stay open to whichever colors are flowing. You should also consider the option to splash a gold card along with a few mana fixers.
Of the common colored/colorless fixing lands, I like Holdout Settlement the best because I find it to be the most reliable in the midgame. But I’d take the first Unknown Shores and the first Crumbling Vestige over the second Holdout Settlement to give myself more options for land sequencing during the games.
Maw of Kozilek has the perfect stats for the format. With 5 toughness, it blocks really well and can typically stave off the assault from your opponent’s next attack. There are few creatures that can attack profitably into it. And then on the next turn, you can attack for 4 damage to swing the tide of the damage race.
As you can see, the best blue common (Blinding Drone, which immediately hints at the importance of colorless mana for blue decks) is ranked below the best and second-best commons of all the other colors. Part of the reason for this is that I like blue the least of all the colors, but it also indicates the relative dearth of power level among the blue cards.
Press into Service is one of the better Act of Treason effects that we’ve seen in a while. In Mexico City, I learned that you can also support onto opposing creatures. That is, I actually thought that I could only support onto my own creatures, and I didn’t bother reading the card because it was in Spanish, so I stole an opposing creature, put a +1/+1 counter on the only creature on my side of the board, and put my opponent to 1 life. That could’ve gone better: I could’ve attacked for lethal by supporting onto the creature that I stole.
Since there are several (nearly) unconditional removal spells at common, the more conditional removal spells are not as valuable. This includes Immolating Glare and Reality Hemorrhage. These cards don’t do much if you’re the aggressor or if you need to deal with a big threat, respectively. They’re still fine most of the time, and I’ll take them over medium creatures, but I’d rather have a really good creature for my deck instead.
The Bread and Butter of Draft Decks
Here you see solid creatures on all spots of the curve and decent cheap combat tricks. 1-mana tricks are always more valuable than 2-mana tricks because they make it easy to play multiple cards in one turn. In this set, most removal is sorcery speed, which further improves the combat tricks because it is unlikely that your opponent can take out your pumped creature in response.
The dual lands are ranked somewhat low because in the context of the first-pick-first-pack decision, they are gold cards. But I’ll take them quite highly if I know I’m in those colors—they’re on par with the best commons in my view.
I’m not a fan of most of these cards, especially the lower half of this list. They are situational or expensive for what they offer.
Zulaport Chainmage is a disappointing cohort card because its stats are so weak, trading down for a 2-drop. This is not the format for a Giant Cockroach with a minor ability. Speaking of giant cockroaches, is it just me or does the picture of Slaughter Drone kind of resemble one?
Bone Saw is an acquired taste. It often went 14th in our practice drafts, but there are evasive blue/red surge decks or red/white equipment decks where it may be interesting. The full potential of the set probably hasn’t been explored yet, but I generally prefer cards that actually do something.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back next week with my deck guide on Modern Affinity!