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Czech Mate – Drafting M14

After my poor showing at Worlds and the recent GPs, I decided to play a little bit more Magic than usual. To be fair, anything more than 2-5 hours a week would be an increase, but I’ve actually been drafting nonstop every day lately, partly because I have been having more success with M14 than probably any other recent format. There is also GP Oakland and GP Prague in the next two weeks. Here is what I learned.

This Format Is Much Slower Than Usual

I’m the type of player that likes aggressive strategies, lots of 2-drops, and cheap tricks to make sure I can continue attacking and playing more creatures. Unfortunately, this format is nothing like that. It took me a while to figure it out, because I just couldn’t accept the fact that a two-mana 2/2 guy is basically unplayable in this format. M14 is not about curving out and emptying your hand faster than your opponent, it’s about synergy and/or card advantage. I was having a really hard time adjusting my “regular” pick orders where [card]Child of Night[/card] or [card]Predatory Sliver[/card] would be a fine 5-7th pick, to actually just going through the pack to see if there is a [card]Divination[/card] or [card]Sensory Deprivation[/card]—cards that would normally hardly ever make a cut in your deck, and both of which I have now first-picked multiple times.

Blue is by Far the Best Color

You have probably already heard this multiple times by now. It almost feels like it has as many playables as all the other colors combined. The reason why blue is so good is that you have all the time in the world to chain your [card]Divination[/card]s and [card]Opportunity[/card] with [card]Archaeomancer[/card]s to draw more cards while your opponent hardly ever puts you under any real pressure. It’s so deep that it can easily support 2 or 3 other blue drafters at the table and you are all going to have solid decks.

Here is my rough pick order for blue:

[card]Opportunity[/card]
[card]Air Servant[/card]
[card]Water Servant[/card]
[card]Claustrophobia[/card]
[card]Essence Scatter[/card]
[card]Divination[/card]
[card]Archaeomancer[/card]
[card]Messenger Drake[/card]
[card]Nephalia Seakite[/card]
[card]Scroll Thief[/card]
[card]Sensory Deprivation[/card]
[card]Time Ebb[/card]
[card]Wall of Frost[/card]
[card]Seacoast Drake[/card]
[card]Disperse[/card]
[card]Cancel[/card]
[card]Negate[/card]
[card]Armored Cancrix[/card]
[card]Phantom Warrior[/card]
[card]Trained Condor[/card]

Obviously sometimes things change based on how much removal you have, your second color, and your curve, but other than that this is pretty accurate. All 4 cards between [card]Divination[/card] and [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card] are very close and depend on what you already have. I have yet to play [card]Frost Breath[/card] and [card]Warden of Evos Isle[/card], and I hardly ever play [card]Phantom Warrior[/card] or [card]Trained Condor[/card]. I usually want to have 1-2 [card]Seacoast Drake[/card]s and 1-2 [card]Cancel[/card]s, but not more. Drake (and similar cards, like [card]Griffin Sentinel[/card]) is the reason why cards like [card]Child of Night[/card] or [card]Sentinel Sliver[/card] are so bad, because they usually deal 2 damage and then just sit there until the end of the game. [card]Armored Cancrix[/card] is a perfectly fine 5-drop because it blocks most of the big relevant creatures—[card]Rumbling Baloth[/card], [card]Rootwalla[/card], [card]Regathan Firecat[/card], [card]Pitchburn Devils[/card] etc., but can be easily replaced with similar cards from other colors, like [card]Siege Mastodon[/card] or [card]Minotaur Abomination[/card].

There are two types of blue decks:

1.) The control decks where you go [card]Divination[/card] into [card]Archaeomancer[/card], [card]Sensory Deprivation[/card] and [card]Claustrophobia[/card] their guys, keep up mana to counter something, or ambush a creature with [card nephalia seakite]Seakite[/card] and finish the game with very few win conditions like [card]Messenger Drake[/card] and [card]Air Servant[/card], or if you are lucky a [card]Shivan Dragon[/card] or [card]Colossal Whale[/card]. This is what I end up with 80-90% of the time drafting blue, and this is usually the deck that wins the draft.

The more card drawing you have the more you want to play first, because you pretty much start on three mana. That’s also the reason why [card]Sensory Deprivation[/card] is so good—it helps you catch up to their 3-5 mana cards ([card]Accursed Spirit[/card], [card]Rumbling Baloth[/card], [card]Pitchburn Devils[/card]) for 1 mana while you draw more cards or keep up countermagic.

The more cheap removal you have, however, the more you want to draw first. I’d say I draw first in this format about 25% of the time.

2.) An aggressive version with [card]Scroll Thief[/card], [card]Time Ebb[/card]s, [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card], [card]Disperse[/card], and fliers. This kind of deck is usually UR because of the burn spells and creatures that work both defensively and offensively, namely [card]Pitchburn Devils[/card]. I normally don’t value [card]Scroll Thief[/card] very highly, but because of the lack of good 2-drops, [card]Scroll Thief[/card] on the play has a very good chance of connecting on turn 3, especially if you have a [card]Time Ebb[/card] or a removal spell to follow it up.

One thing I want to mention is what I often see people do against blue—draw a card, go to combat, realize the opponent has untapped mana and they could be running their guys into [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card]. So they don’t attack, go to second main, play another guy, and have it countered. See what’s wrong with this? If you play your guy precombat and they counter it, you can at least safely attack and get some damage in without the fear of the Seakite.

People also don’t correctly sideboard against blue. Many times I see my opponent start game 2 with a [card]Festering Newt[/card] or a [card]Tenacious Dead[/card]. What exactly are these for if they can’t block a bigger guy or trade with a 2/2 or X/1 creature? Its also not a great idea to still have auras in your deck if you saw a [card]Time Ebb[/card], [card]Disperse[/card], and [card]Archaeomancer[/card] in game 1.

Other Colors in M14

RB Sacrifice – This is, in my opinion, the second best archetype in M14. The card that makes it work is [card]Act of Treason[/card]—you steal your opponent’s best creature, attack with it, and sacrifice it to [card]Blood Bairn[/card], [card]Altar’s Reap[/card], [card]Gnawing Zombie[/card], [card]Barrage of Expendables[/card], or [card]Vampire Warlord[/card]. The reason why this deck is so good is all the synergy—your cards are very good on their own, but they work even better together. You just have to make sure to take the [card]Act of Treason[/card] really highly because it’s the only card with this effect.

My pick order would be something like this:

[card]Doom Blade[/card]
[card]Sengir Vampire[/card]
[card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card]
[card]Flames of the Firebrand[/card]
[card]Liturgy of Blood[/card]
[card]Volcanic Geyser[/card]
[card]Act of Treason[/card]
[card]Quag Sickness[/card]
[card]Pitchburn Devils[/card]
[card]Tenacious Dead[/card]
[card]Academy Raider[/card]
[card]Young Pyromancer[/card]
[card]Blood Bairn[/card]
[card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card]
[card]Vampire Warlord[/card]
[card]Shock[/card]
[card]Altar’s Reap[/card]
[card]Barrage of Expendables[/card]
[card]Dragon Egg[/card]
[card]Corrupt[/card]
[card]Accursed Spirit[/card]
[card]Gnawing Zombie[/card]
[card]Battle Sliver[/card]
[card]Corpse Hauler[/card]
[card]Molten Birth[/card]
[card]Goblin Shortcutter[/card]
[card]Nightwing Shade[/card]
[card]Deathgaze Cockatrice[/card]
[card]Wild Guess[/card]
[card]Regathan Firecat[/card]
[card]Canyon Minotaur[/card]
[card]Child of Night[/card]
[card]Wring Flesh[/card]

It’s obviously very rough and it changes based on what you already have, you can usually pick up the sacrifice outlets later in the pack because there are so many of them.

White:  Easily the worst of the 5 colors. There isn’t very much that would make you want to play it—pretty much only [card]Serra Angel[/card] and [card]Pacifism[/card]. I don’t like [card]Banisher Priest[/card] very much because it leads to some awkward situations where you can get blown out by instant removal or [card]Disperse[/card]. [card]Celestial Flare[/card] and [card]Charging Griffin[/card] are fine, but that’s about it. All the other cards are mostly defensive ([card]Griffin Sentinel[/card], [card]Angelic Wall[/card], [card]Pillarfield Ox[/card], [card]Siege Mastodon[/card]) so the best use of white is to pair it with blue.

Green: To be fair, I don’t have much experience with green because I stopped drafting it after losing all of my early drafts with it. In my experience, RG is okay, but has awkward mana because of all the double-colored spells ([card]Kalonian Tusker[/card], [card]Rumbling Baloth[/card], [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card], [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card]) and if you can’t play your spell on curve for even one turn because you don’t have the right mana you are usually too far behind. I’ve had some success pairing green with blue, mostly because [card]Elvish Mystic[/card] ramps you nicely into turn 2 [card]Scroll Thief[/card] and card drawing helps to fix your mana.

My green pick order looks roughly like this:

[card]Enlarge[/card]
[card]Briarpack Alpha[/card]
[card]Hunt the Weak[/card]
[card]Kalonian Tusker[/card]
[card]Rumbling Baloth[/card]
[card]Rootwalla[/card]
[card]Woodborn Behemoth[/card]
[card]Advocate of the Beast[/card]
[card]Elvish Mystic[/card]
[card]Deadly Recluse[/card]
[card]Giant Growth[/card]
[card]Predatory Sliver[/card]
[card]Rangers Guile[/card]
[card]Giant Spider[/card]
[card]Sporemound[/card]
[card]Trollhide[/card]
[card]Brindle Boar[/card]

Slivers: I’ve tried drafting Slivers many times, especially after excitedly first picking a [card]Megantic Sliver[/card], but it never really worked out (or at least for me). You will be forced to take average cards over cards that are normally much better just because they are Slivers. You also know that cards like [card]Predatory Sliver[/card] or [card]Battle Sliver[/card] aren’t going to be late picks or even table, because they fit in other decks too. You are either green-based, in which case you have to take mana fixing somewhat highly because there is only [card]Manaweft Sliver[/card], [card]Lay of the Land[/card], [card]Verdant Haven[/card], [card]Darksteel Ingot[/card], and [card]Shimmering Grotto[/card] to help you with that, and except for the Sliver I wouldn’t normally be very happy to play any of those cards.

Or, something like RW or RG, which is a better version, in my opinion, because you are mostly a normal aggro deck with a few value Slivers added ([card]Predatory Sliver[/card], [card]Battle Sliver[/card], [card]Bonescythe Sliver[/card], [card]Steelform Sliver[/card], [card]Megantic Sliver[/card]).

Cards that Turned out to be Better or Worse Than Expected

Thumbs Up
[draft]Academy Raider[/draft]
[card]Academy Raider[/card] – I feel like this card is almost a better version of [card]Scroll Thief[/card]. There are very few creatures that can actually block it. The fact that you have to discard first isn’t very relevant, you almost always have extra lands or cards you don’t need in hand anyway. To give you some perspective, I happily take it over [card]Shock[/card] and sometimes even [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card].
[draft]Tenacious Dead[/draft]
[card]Tenacious Dead[/card] – In many situations this card may very easily be a first pick. Combined with [card]Blood Bairn[/card], it’s a +2/+2 for 1B, which means both that your guy can’t really die in combat and that they have to start  chump-blocking soon. It also works well with [card]Altar’s Reap[/card], [card]Vampire Warlord[/card], or [card]Gnawing Zombie[/card], blocking their biggest dude and draining for 1. There also isn’t very much that actually kills it, and who wants to spew a [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card] or [card]Hunt the Weak[/card] on a 1/1 anyway?
[draft]Wall of Swords[/draft]
[card]Wall of Swords[/card] – As I already said, I like being aggressive and Walls aren’t usually the type of cards you can find in my decks, but this format being so much slower means this card is actually quite good as it stops or at least trades with almost every relevant non-rare creature in the format. Unless my deck is somehow more aggro, I like the Wall more than something like [card]Charging Griffin[/card].
[draft]Shrivel[/draft]
[card]Shrivel[/card] – Awesome sideboard card. I always bring this in against red ([card]Academy Raider[/card], [card]Regathan Firecat[/card], [card]Goblin Shortcutter[/card], [card]Young Pyromancer[/card], [card]Dragon Hatchling[/card], [card]Molten Birth[/card]) and Slivers.

Thumbs Down
[draft]Trollhide
Divine Favor
Dark Favor[/draft]
The Auras – [card]Trollhide[/card], [card]Divine Favor[/card], [card]Dark Favor[/card], and [card]Blessing[/card] are cards I would never play. [card]Shiv’s Embrace[/card] is at least a card that can randomly steal a win out of nowhere but it’s still not something I would pick highly or even be happy to play. [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card] is borderline playable—I can see it being a 23rd card if you are really lacking playables, but it’s still going to be quite bad.
[draft]Wring Flesh[/draft]
[card]Wring Flesh[/card] – Normally I would almost always play this card, but it doesn’t really kill anything relevant in this format. I usually only side it in against red, mainly because of [card]Academy Raider[/card]s.
[draft]Young Pyromancer[/draft]
[card]Young Pyromancer[/card] – Obviously still a great card that you always play, but much worse than I originally thought. It’s great in UR where you get more value from all the [card]Divination[/card]s and [card]Time Ebb[/card]s and whatnot, but a RG or RB deck isn’t usually going to have a lot of sorceries or instants, and even if you do, besides an obvious combo with [card]Blood Bairn[/card], what are you going to do with all the 1/1s?
[draft]Frost Breath[/draft]
[card]Frost Breath[/card] – I’ve played my fair share of [card]Blinding Beam[/card]s and [card]Frost Breath[/card]s, but once again this card is just not suited to this format.
[draft]Deathgaze Cockatrice[/draft]
[card]Deathgaze Cockatrice[/card] – This card doesn’t really do a whole lot, it dies to [card]Shock[/card], which makes it pretty bad already, because trading 4 mana for 1 isn’t what you want to be doing and it isn’t very good at attacking, because a 2/2 isn’t really too big of a clock. It would also be much better if it didn’t cost 2BB.
[draft]Accorder’s Shield
Spell Blast[/draft]
[card]Accorder’s Shield[/card], [card]Spell Blast[/card] and the Staff cycle being uncommon: I always want to complain when I excitedly look at the uncommons in the pack and see these cards. While I’ve seen Shield being somewhat playable in a deck with multiple [card]Regathan Firecat[/card]s and [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card]s, it’s still not a card that should take up the uncommon slot. And don’t let Sam Black make you believe that [card]Staff of the Mind Magus[/card] is a good card, those mono-blue decks are good because of all the blue cards, not because of the Staff.

And Finally Some M14 Combos

[card]Scroll Thief[/card] + [card]Trained Condor[/card] – When you run out of [card]Time Ebb[/card]s for their ground blockers, you can fly over them and keep drawing more cards. Just watch out for [card]Windstorm[/card].

[card]Angelic Accord[/card] + [card]Bubbling Cauldron[/card], possibly [card]Elixir of Immortality[/card], [card]Congregation[/card], [card]Corrupt[/card], and to a certain degree [card]Divine Favor[/card] and lifelink creatures – I guess you can call this another archetype, though not a very good one. I’ve seen this deck in action multiple times but never actually drafted it. The deck is usually BW and uses [card]Diabolic Tutor[/card] to find your missing piece. It’s sweet when it all comes together and you make 4/4 Angels every turn, but most of the time you will be missing one of the pieces, and get stuck with a bunch of cards that don’t really do anything. So while the aforementioned Thief + Condor is a fine “combo,” they are also both good cards on their own, which is unfortunately not something you can say about a lonely [card]Angelic Accord[/card] or [card]Elixir of Immortality[/card]. It also sucks going through all the trouble of [card]Diabolic Tutor[/card]ing for it and then having it countered or destroyed with [card]Naturalize[/card] or [card]Solemn Offering[/card].

[card]Dismiss into Dream[/card] + [card]Zephyr Charge[/card] – Quite expensive to get it going and more casual than competitive, but 1U: Destroy a creature isn’t something a lot of the slower blue decks can beat.

[card]Time Ebb[/card] + [card]Essence Scatter[/card]/[card]Cancel[/card] – You know the dilemma between playing your guy or keeping up [card]Essence Scatter[/card] in case they play the creature you are afraid of. With [card]Time Ebb[/card] you can progress your board at will and if you don’t waste it on a random dude when you don’t really need to play it, you can later return and counter something more relevant.

[card]Voracious Wurm[/card] + [card]Brindle Boar[/card]/[card]Elixir of Immortality[/card] – Well, one of them is a borderline playable and the other two should almost never make the cut, unless you are blue and have 2 [card]Opportunity[/card] and 2 [card]Divination[/card]s, in which case Elixir is fine.

[card]Gladecover Scout[/card] + [card]Lightning Talons[/card]/[card]Trollhide[/card]/[card]Shiv’s Embrace[/card] – I’ve played this kind of deck a couple times, mostly when trying to salvage a draft that went horribly wrong and it never really worked out for obvious reasons. Same thing as with [card]Angelic Accord[/card], when it all comes together you feel great (and even then it’s not that great), but when it doesn’t you are stuck with a bunch of mediocre cards.

That’s all for today, hopefully I’ll see some of you at Oakland this weekend, where I’ll be doing the Foiled Again Bounty Tournament and gunslinging!

Martin

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