I dislike aggro decks in general. They just don't offer the interaction that makes Magic great. Still, drafting the all-in 1-drop decks was quite fun a few weeks ago. Nowadays, everybody knows how good they are—and actually, they aren't that good anymore. Here are a few reasons I don't like aggro in Amonkhet:
- Lots of people are drafting faster decks—it's a hard fight over the good aggro cards.
- The die roll matters a lot in most matchups. Being on the draw with aggro feels bad.
- Mulligans and mana screw/flood are real issues. Running 15 lands and therefore only running 8 mana sources of your main color really can punish you.
I had some success on Magic Online drafting control lately. I don't force it, but I still often end up in the deck. Here's how it works:
Being on the Draw Matters
I'll start with probably the most controversial point. I opt for drafting decks that want to go second. Since people always play first when they win the roll, you can always go second in game 1 if you want to.
Here are a few reasons why this is actually good:
- You don't lose to mulligans and flood or screw as often. You do get more free wins from your opponents' stumbles.
- Some cards are actually better on the draw.
- You have an additional card at hand for each of your turns, making correct cycling easier and giving you a higher probability to curve out.
I'll give you some advice on how to draft a deck in the next few chapters.
Two more hints: Blue decks usually want to play first, since Essence Scatter/Censor are much better on the play, and you usually have card advantage, which profits from the tempo boost you get by going first. Also, you don't want to be on the draw against a hellbent deck, or all-in white decks based around the white Trial. Adjust accordingly for games 2 and 3.
Drafting Black Matters
Black is your weapon of choice when fighting through an aggro field, since black offers 10 (!) very good commons for that strategy. The best commons are Splendid Agony and Cartouche of Ambition. Since most of my decks run few and rather small creatures, I usually pick my first Agony over my first Cartouche. This changes quickly if I have Trials or draft green. In the end, I opt for a mix where I have soft removal, hard removal, and recurring life gain.
Festering Mummy is the cornerstone of this strategy, since it trades for most 2-drops and prevents you from falling behind on the draw. Also, discard (Miasmic Mummy, Unburden) is much more powerful on the draw, and even flexible if they are hellbent. Final Reward is nice to have, but I wouldn't draft it too highly.
I love white as my support color. White offers Compulsory Rest, which is excellent on the draw. It lets you run fewer 2-drop creatures (which are mostly garbage, but a necessary evil for your deck) and it almost always finds a target on turn 2 on the draw, which it doesn't on the play. I pick Rest over Cast Out, or any white common/uncommon. Also, Impeccable Timing is good on the draw for the same reason. Sure, they can have a combat trick, but then they skip their turn without adding to the board. Those Who Serve, Sacred Cat, and Supply Caravan are also fine commons.
Magma Spray is one of the best tempo hosers in this format, and therefore precious, especially on the draw. Red also offers Deem Worthy, Trial of Zeal, and Warfire Javelineers. Yes, those cards are all uncommon, and if you open Magma Spray, you still end up in aggro often if red is open. If it's not, you don't need much good red, since black is so deep.
Green doesn't offer any irreplaceable goodies, but it offers synergy, which can be very good in this deck. Almost every -1/-1 counter creature synergizes well with Festering Mummy and Doomed Dissenter, and every green creature works well with the black Cartouche. Quarry Hauler also has a relevant trigger for your deck.
I only end up in blue if I open a rare. Essence Scatter is the best common here, and from there it's a long way until there's something close in power level. Still, blue offers nice card advantage in different shapes, but mostly in the form of the rares you open.
Having a Low Curve Matters
Why is Magma Spray so good? Because it provides a huge tempo boost. Mainly because of exert, embalm, or -1/-1 counters, you shoot down most 2-3 drops with it. Most impressive scenarios include Spraying their 2-drop—on the play you can do so on turn 3 while adding another 2 to the board. On the draw you can spray on turn 1, which feels like stealing their right of going first if you can stick your own 2-drop.
In order to survive the early rush on the draw, you need similar tools. Spray and Mummy are so important since they handle whatever comes down for your opponent until turn 2.
Also, you need to collect as many 2-drops as possible. I have been drafting and playing Tah-Crop Skirmisher over Aven Initiate more often than not. Try to avoid 2-mana cyclers—the 1-mana cycle creatures are fine in these decks.
Good common 2-drops for the deck are: Compulsory Rest, Tah-Crop Skirmisher, Seeker of Insight, Essence Scatter, Winds of Rebuke, Miasmic Mummy, Dune Beetle, Initiate's Companion, and Doomed Dissenter.
Note that removal is much, much better than creatures in general, because exert makes blocking so much more difficult.
Card Advantage Matters
Card and quality advantage often comes in form of embalm, Trials, aftermath, or rares. But even Tormenting Voice and Wander in Death will do the job. You seriously need card advantage in a 2-drop-fueled control deck.
Rares and powerful uncommons are more important for you than for aggro decks. Cards like Cruel Reality and Sandwurm Convergence are premium in decks like these. Removal is more important for you—in aggro, combat tricks will do something very similar, so there you don't need to draft removal as highly. This makes removal more accessible for control.
In order to get to play more removal, uncommons, and rares, you often need to play more colors. I usually play mono-black with 2 splash colors, or 2 colors with 1 or 2 splashes. I'm also not afraid to draft the full 5 colors, where 1-2 colors will be my main colors and the rest are basically aftermath cards and splashed removal or rares.
Being on the draw helps you out with your mana base and the mulligans you have to take because of it.
I am aware that most people dislike Painted Bluffs, but I love it, and I loved Shimmering Grotto in all of its formats. Just splash for Magma Spray, Compulsory Rest, and some aftermath flashbacks, and you can indeed set up a 5-color build with it. Especially in a deck with lots of low drops, you will often have the spare mana to invest. By the way, I love cycling lands in these decks, even the off-color ones. Cascading Cataracts, unless you have a mana base that supports Gift of Paradise, is also a fine card if you run multiple aftermath cards with double off-color flashback.
The Sideboard Matters
You have good sideboard cards, and you have a terrible matchup against blue, slow decks (or rares) in general. Lay Bare the Heart is excellent against blue since you always hit with it, and blue runs very few threats. If you can grab a Drake Haven or an Enigma Drake out of their hand, you will have all the time in the world. Also, knowing their hand is especially relevant against blue.
Luxa River Shrine can be an important sideboard card against Slither Blade decks or against red decks with multiple 1-drops if you don't have a black Cartouche. You don't have to waste your removal in the midgame on 1-drops anymore, and you escape the risk of being Flinged, Brute Strengthed, or Mighty Leaped to death in the late game.
Blazing Volley is good against most red decks, and again, especially on the draw.
This is it for today. I'll end my article with a picture that says more than all the words of my article combined. After all, Amonkhet can still be fun, you know.
I hope you get a chance to draft one of these decks before the new expansion launches.
Again, feel free to ask questions and discuss in the comments.