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Breaking Through – Splish Splash, A Guide to Greed

Hello, my name is Conley Woods, and I am addicted to Greed.

Alright, that may not be entirely true, but compared to a large portion of Magic players, I certainly walk closer to the line than I should. Granted, for every Paulo, there is a LSV to help make me look sane, so I appreciate the backup, Luis. Typically, greed comes up most often when looking at Limited as you have the option of splashing and your mulligans are a lot more spur of the moment than with Constructed where you tend to know what you need to be doing each game. And I am definitely not here to inform you that being greedy is right or healthy or anything, but I will endorse the idea that it is not strictly a bad thing as many would have you believe.

My greed in Limited tends to be showcased early on in a sets lifetime. I end up splashing for cards that aren’t worth it, or screwing up my mana base despite having a good deck without said splash. This happens early on more for a bunch of reasons. Whether I am being too indecisive with my picks early and end up with some sick card that would otherwise ride the pine, or I just don’t fully grasp the format that I am jumping into, I tend to play it a little more loose early on.

You can actually go back in time and see this happening. Whether I am going out on a limb and splashing 3 copies of Steady Progress in my poison deck for an All-Star Draft or I am trying to make Sylvok Replica work in my triple Volition Reins, Koth deck at my first Scars Grand Prix. Sometimes this is intentional as an experiment to see where the boundaries lie, which was the case for that All-Star draft, but other times it is just me being an idiot and learning the hard way, ala GP Toronto.

Poster courtesy of Martin Juza, who made a nice series of them last week

In general, I will admit that being greedy during the draft portion, the deck building portion, and the mulligan decisions, leads to a different play style overall that can be difficult for people to relate to. Whether or not doing things in such a manner is correct or not is irrelevant because it is different, and different is assumed to be bad most of the time. Because of this, and the label itself even, “greed” is most often viewed as a weakness. That is, until this format.

MSS draft is a format that not only rewards greed, it also ushers it into place. Many people who are not having a lot of success at the format are not doing so because they are drafting the same way they were told to draft, but this format is an outlier. While the common practices of taking cards on color, limited splashing, not getting married to first picks, etc etc, are more often than not going to lead to success, many of those rules need to be broken in order to maximize the success in MSS draft. Today I would like to go over some of the common “correct” lines of thinking and explain why they don’t work for this format.

Do not get married to your 1st pick

As you develop as a drafter, one of the premier lessons you will learn and hear time and time again is to make sure you are not committing your entire draft based on what your first few picks determine. For example, in M11, just because you opened a Sun Titan and then got passed an Overwhelming Stampede does not mean you should ignore the Mind Control that you get 5th pick and the intense blue that comes afterward. You are instructed to take the best card first and then adjust to the draft as it is passed to you. Hopefully you get lucky and the colors you opened continue to come, but when they don’t you need to adapt.

While testing this format in San Diego with a Gruesome Encore of some of the games best, we learned very quickly that your first few picks are so far above the curve in this format, that marrying them will usually be beneficial! Take the poster-child for this phenomenon from this set for example: Massacre Wurm. Massacre Wurm is so powerful that despite it being triple Black, and despite only being able to see it in P1P1 situations, it is probably correct to be playing that card some 90% of the time you get it. We began to slowly adopt this method and never looked back almost universally as a house.

While you can certainly read the draft still and allow that to determine your second color, you are doing yourself a disservice if you opt to not be Black anymore. The nature of this format allows you to only have 2 or 3 cards of a color in order to be “in” that color, and Massacre Wurm by itself may be more powerful than the 3 cards you have of some other color. If you happen to grab a Grasp of Darkness and Instill Infection as your other 2 cards, then Black is probably going to far above the power level of your other colors.

One unique thing that enables this in this format is the density of artifacts that occupy most of your deck. When you only have 7 to 12 colored spells in your deck in total, you can more easily get away with being an entire color for just one card (but like 2 or 3). This also enables our next point.

Splash only when you have adequate fixing and by necessity

While this one is closer to being correct in this format than the previous rule, I still think the world of Scars drafting allows for more splashes and for deeper splashes. Each of these points is a little different though, so we will look at them separate of each other. Remember, while every color has access to some amount of splashing thanks to Myr, Green in particular is worse at splashing than it is in most other formats. Yes, it is still better at it than the other colors are, but not by too wide of a margin.

When we talk about allowing for more splashes, we are referencing both the number of times you are going to be willing to splash as well as the number of splashes you are willing to have per draft. Typically, you are discouraged from splashing altogether but I think splashes are going to improve your deck much more in this format and should be done more often than many people do. Let’s look at the logistics side of things.

In a typical format, like M11, if you splash something like a Doom Blade, you are looking for at least 2 to 3 black sources in your deck. Assuming you aren’t green, this probably just means 3 Swamps. It is usually not an issue when you draw your Doom Blade but not your Swamp, as that Doom Blade will have an immediate impact on the game once you do, but when you draw a Swamp, or 2, and not your Doom Blade, you are hurting your mana for the rest of your spells. You won’t be casting your Fiery Hellhounds and Aether Adepts very easily when you draw 2 Swamps. Compare this to MSS draft. Here, you do not have the color commitments of something like M11 due to the high artifact reliance. Instead of drawing a bunch of Aether Adepts and Hellhounds, you are drawing colorless cards that are going to get cast off of any lands. You may even have something like Moriok Replica or Dross Ripper that is fine without the Swamps but gets that much better with them. Drawing a Swamp without your Go for the Throat in this format is less likely to hurt you. Granted, there are decks where this is not the case, like when you have multiple Volition Reins and a Koth, but I think those are the exception and not the rule where as that is typically reversed.

As far as splashing multiple colors, I think this applies more to Sealed in this format than Draft, but they both have merit. Again, you are more likely to have your main color be something like 5 or 6 cards, your secondary color be 3 to 4, and then can get away with a double single card splash pretty easily. Compare this to M11, where your main color is 11 cards, your secondary one is 8 or 9 and when you draw your off color splash mana, you are hurting your chances at casting spells. Specifically, since there are so many powerful cards in this set, you need to have them in your deck or have answers to them. Splashing Arrest and/or Spread the Sickness is almost mandatory for when you begin to run into the Hoard-Smelter Dragons and Carnifex Demons that are bound to come up. Sure, if you draw your Arrest and not the white mana for it then it is like you mulliganed, but I think you are much more likely to beat a mulligan than your G/R deck is going to beat a Carnifex Demon without something like Spread or Arrest as an out. Of course, it is always important to take into account your individual pool before snap splashing, but I think people should be more open to the idea than they currently are.

When in doubt, add a land

I think for a format like M11, when you had something like a Vengeful Archon or a Titan and a Mind Control in your deck, you were encouraged to add a land and got to 18 more often than not. This was supposed to let you more consistently play your game winning spell. In this format, I would argue that 17 lands is on the heavy side and only a very small handful of decks should ever go to 18 lands. Usually in fact, I am totally fine with 16 or occasionally even 15 lands, depending on the strategy.

This is partly due to the access to 7 different mana Myr in the format and Sphere of the Suns playing a proxy for one. While normally only Green gets access to these acceleration spells, in Mirrodin, we all do, so they very easily fill the role of something like a Ravnica Bounceland. You would prefer to have the on-color version of course, but even an off-color bounceland was generally fine just for its ability to restrict both mana screw and mana flood. Myr do very much the same thing, adding metalcraft your deck, bodies to wear equipment, and usually even a few free points of damage.

In addition to that, I think that some 90 to 95% of the decks in this format want to be on the draw. When you are always starting on the draw, you can usually get away with a land less than usual. Because not everyone has gotten the memo on this yet either, a lot of players, especially online, will start on the play even after they win the flip and make your life that much easier. Starting on the draw just makes it slightly easier to find the bomb you inevitably have and the format is not so fast now with Besieged that you get punished by some speedy deck.

Finally, because the power level of the cards is so high, one of the easiest ways to lose a game in both sealed and draft for this format is to get mana flooded. I always feel a little bit better about getting mana screwed rather than flooded anyway, as at least when you eventually do hit land, you have options, but getting mana flooded means you are doubly at the mercy of the top of your deck because you not only need there to be a spell there, but you need it to be a relevant spell. It is so difficult to beat other people’s bombs when you do not have action of your own. I would feel much better about a 16 land, 3 Myr deck than I would with some 18 land deck just about every day of the week in this format.

Throw that hand back!

I’m not going to try to act like I am the most disciplined of mulliganers for a normal set, but this set in particular has opened the door a little bit on the range of hands that are keepable. While normally 1 land hands and 2 are lands are quick mulligans more often than not, in this set, I think you need to have a legitimate reason not to keep those. Many of the reasons for this are ones that we just talked about.

For starters, assuming you are following along, you should be drawing first when given the option. I would say that most 2 land hands are snap keeps on the draw in this format. Granted, you will have the 2 land, 5, five drop hand that has to go back, but again, getting flooded is so detrimental to winning in this format that I would much rather miss land drop 4 or something for a turn than mulligan and end up keeping some 4 land 2 spell hand that doesn’t get there. In fact, because you are drawing first and getting flooded is much worse than getting screwed in this format, I would say that you should be keeping more 1 land hands than 6 land hands by a large margin.

Remember, that even beyond just Myr, you have Spellbombs that are quick and easy cantrips, Ichor Wellsprings and the like as well. These are random draws to be fair, and typically the theory is that a random cantrip is more likely to have you keep a bad hand as a result (this was the Street Wraith debate) but again, I think in this format that is different. 1 land hands have to be assessed on a per-hand basis of course, but if the number of 1 land hands you keep has not gone up since something like M11, you should probably reevaluate what you are keeping.

6 land hands are certainly worse than 1 landers most of the time, but the raw power of certain cards makes them fine to keep. If your single spell is a Carnifex Demon, Sunblast Angel, Hoard-Smelter Dragon or Contagion Engine, you can likely keep based off of the power swing that that one card will provide. Odds are you are going to draw some spells before turn 6 anyway and be able to interact with the opponent. Of course drawing 4 or 5 lands in those 6 draw steps will likely leave you with a loss, as we have already discussed the harm of flood, but certain powerful cards justify it I think.

Going back to the 1 or 2 landers, remember that even past the actual bombs in the set, plenty of common and uncommons at 2 or 3 mana have a swingy enough effect that getting stalled is easily manageable. Think of the power of Arc Trail, Viridian Corrupter, Divine Offering etc. Each of these cards offers a huge swing for only 2 or 3 mana which is usually going to happen before you fall too far behind. Once you get to 4 mana the gates swing open even further with Scrapmelters and Skinrenders entering the mix. In general, you should be much more willing to at least look at these 1 or 2 land hands than you would otherwise be.

Wrap Up

Greed certainly comes with its upsides and downsides, but I feel that this format does enough to favor the greedy that adjusting your normal play style will more often than not be rewarded. You really need to leave your comfort zone and experiment a little bit with these principles to be made into a believer, so don’t just take my word for it. Be greedy, you know you want to. Thanks for reading.

Conley Woods

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