Tempest Remastered is about to be released on Magic Online. For me, Tempest always brings fond memories of times long past, when a bunch of Cologne guys allowed me into a drafting group for the first time. Back then, the PTQs of the season had Rochester Draft Top 8s, and so we Rochester Drafted Tempest.
In my first draft I ended up sitting in 1st place, so I got the very first pick of the draft. I opened my first draft pack ever, laid out 15 cards, and somebody commented on how good Orim, Samite Healer is. I quickly picked up the card, and sure enough somebody else complained how I only took the card because the other guy had said she was good. To be honest I didn’t have much of a clue about anything back then, but it was enough to tell that Orim is a good card–the first card I have ever drafted.
Only sixteen and a half years later it is time to give Tempest another go. In hindsight I must say that I enjoyed drafting Magic cards, but I was never in love with Tempest, and especially its expansions. Tempest at least was an honest in-your-face draft environment. TSE on the other hand did a bit of everything.
Initially I had trouble understanding the archetypes in draft, so I decided I would build exemplary decks to deepen my understanding of the archetypes. The way I did it I built decks from a card pool of two of each common. It turned out that the decks I built were quite instructive. Of course they lacked the variance that normal draft decks display, but playing around with the cards I quickly got a feel for what worked and what didn’t.
I first performed this experiment for Born of the Gods-Theros draft and wrote about that here. I was not really interested in exploring Khans or Fate-Khans in such depth, but for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir I wanted to try to get some early insight into Dragons of Tarkir-Fate Reforged Draft for our team. It turned out that I was able to predict the directions most of the color combinations would go. It’s not like I have solved this draft format completely, and certainly not from this alone, but it gave us a good theory-driven start.
At this point I think I have gotten some feel for the technique and would like to apply it to Tempest Remastered to predict how draft decks will and should look in each of the two-color combinations. A problem is that my technique as-is does not work well in a triple-set draft environment. The set has 101 commons, and in a draft 160 commons are opened, thus every common is available 1.6 times on average. If I restrict myself to using one exemplar of each card only this will lead to decks that are way too weak to being representative of their archetype, if I use two the decks will look superstrong and way more streamlined than you will ever see in reality.
Thus, I will bend the rules a little. For each deck I can use duplicates of a few cards, but not the best and most flexible commons that everybody wants, like Dark Banishing. The reasoning is that you can get more of most cards by prioritizing them, but this will not work for the top commons that everybody wants. I have determined two “chase” commons per color as follows:
- Master Decoy and Spirit en-Kor
- Merfolk Looter and Wayward Soul
- Dark Banishing and Gravedigger
- Kindle and Lightning Blast
- Elvish Fury and Rootwalla
For every color combination I tried to build reasonable draft decks using these rules. The results indicate that every color paired with blue can either go control or aggro except for blue/green, which doesn’t seem to be a deck at all. Not all other non-blue decks are equally aggressive but most of them should be drafted with an aggressive game plan in mind.
I took screenshots of all 13 decks that I built, but going over them one by one would be very tedious and repetitive. Instead I grouped them to illustrate some general ideas drawn from these hypothetical decks. When looking at these decks, keep in mind that when I used a card twice that means that the card is either a backbone of the deck, or the color combination has a hole in this spot that couldn’t reasonably be fixed otherwise. Either way you should usually prioritize those cards. Of course when a deck relies on too many multiples it becomes very suspect that such a deck comes together, because you cannot prioritize every card. On the other hand if I used multiples of cards that nobody else wants anyway, then you will get those cards if they are in the draft.
Most of the decks that you can draft in Tempest Remastered seem relatively straightforward. Blue/white can be an evasion-based aggro deck. Blue/black can be a control deck, and red/green wins on the ground by combining efficient, often big creatures with removal and combat tricks. Generally, as long as you follow your normal draft intuition you should be fine.
Avoid blue/green at all cost. Blue and green are the slowest colors, and you have very little removal to compensate for this. On top of that, the blue removal spells are terrible in UG. Gaseous Form is atrocious if you plan on winning with big ground creatures, Time Ebb is only good if you are ahead, and Provoke is not the solution when your opponent will start chump blocking at some point anyway. There is literally no incentive to drafting this color combination.
Green has a bunch of mana ramp, but drafting ramp decks is another recipe for disaster. While you are ramping your opponent will start deploying evasion creatures. They will then kill your first fatty and by the time that you start attacking you will be so far behind in the race that you will never catch up. If you are hellbent on ramping or trying to salvage a train wreck, then there are two ways to do it: First, Harrow. You will probably not be able to consistently curve 2-drop into Harrow plus 2-drop into 5-drop, but when you do it, it’s at least powerful. The other way is to draft as many Rampant Growth and Endangered Armodon as possible, passing every single creature with toughness less than 3. Turn-three Endangered Armodon should be respectable at least on the play. When ramping, red has the biggest rewards for assembling a bunch of mana. None of the relevant cards are common, but Flame Wave, Searing Touch, Fanning the Flames, and the infamous Rolling Thunder win games when fueled by all that mana.
Black/green has been retrofitted to resemble more modern black/green draft strategies. You can use Mulch and Hermit Druid to fill your graveyard and then start unearthing stuff with Death’s Duet and Gravedigger. Aside from a little card advantage, the rewards don’t really seem to be there, at least not if you rely mostly on the commons. Casting a bunch of spells that don’t affect the board is the best way to get yourself killed quickly against single-mindedly aggressive opponents.
Black and red both have the means to draft suicide aggro decks, but most of the time the perfect curve will only materialize when you are in both colors. Curving Mogg Conscripts into Mogg Flunkies can lead to huge blowouts—both ways. In this deck Telethopter may be a relatively good card. When the ground is clogged up, it helps finish, and your Mogg Conscripts might not be able to attack anyway. Also there is a mini-synergy with Carnophage where in your upkeep you tap Carnophage for Telethopter when you don’t want to attack with Carnophage anyway. This way you get some value out of Carnophage even without paying any life.
If you draft blue you need to determine if you are going to be aggro or control. If you want to be aggro, then draft shadow creatures highly, if you are control then shadow creatures are not for you. Instead Hammerhead Shark and Horned Turtle provide decent blockers, although you should be aware that your opponents will pressure you on three fronts: ground, air, and shadow plane. A single shadow or flying creature can easily be picked off with a removal spell, but your opponent will probably have more and you need to defend yourself against all of them. Drafting cards like Wall of Diffusion and Mounted Archers is very important to reduce the strain on your removal, and thus mount an effective defense.
If you draft a control deck, then you are probably drafting blue. A card that you should think of highly in blue control decks is Scrivener. Most of the premium removal spells in Tempest Remastered are instants, and returning them is very powerful. However, overall there are not that many good instants, so you should also pick up a few cards like Whispers of the Muse or even Shadow Rift to guarantee yourself value from Scrivener.
If you try to draft an aggressive deck that wants to win on the ground (usually either RG or BR), then be prepared to fight through a bunch of 1/3, 2/3, and 1/4 creatures. Maniacal Rage and Elven Rite help, but are very risky given the quality of removal in Tempest Remastered. Elvish Fury, Seething Anger, and (maybe) Conviction are your best bets.
The aggressive decks in the Esper colors all have access to flying and shadow creatures in both of their colors. These decks will always be evasion-based, and thus force their opponents into a race. Unfortunately, in Tempest Remastered there are no Frost Breath-type cards to swing the race. Instead you have to rely on using your removal spells wisely and throwing a few roadblocks like Hammerhead Shark into harm’s way.
Blue/red aggressive decks have a lot of good cards, but they will usually not be streamlined enough to support either a plan of good ground aggression or evasive aggression.
Drafting Slivers is a very risky strategy. The quality of the deck is highly dependent on the number of Muscle Slivers that you can get your hands on. All other Slivers are weak individually, still weak when combined with each other, and don’t provide additional bonuses when drawn in multiples. However, most of them are very good with only one Muscle Sliver in play, and completely ridiculous with two Muscle Slivers. Fixing the mana for Slivers should not be too much of an issue, but keep in mind that Harrow is the good card while Rampant Growth is a necessary evil that you want to keep to a minimum. In the end I would expect Sliver decks to garner around n-1 wins on average where n is the number of Muscle Slivers that you have.
There are a bunch of extremely valuable creatures with 1-toughness, including Merfolk Looter and some of the best aggressive creatures. Good 1-toughness creatures are also spread throughout colors, so you will basically never encounter a deck without such creatures. Thus, Mogg Fanatic, Cursed Flesh, and Mage il-Vec are very valuable cards. Rootwater Hunter and Mawcor are bombs. On the other hand Endangered Armodon is a trap for exactly this reason, and also because Cursed Flesh will punish you.
If you are blue or black make sure to get at least one discard or counterspell effect. This gives you a sideboard option to combat the stronger buyback cards.
There are no-draft-around-me uncommons, so most decks will have very straightforward strategies. However, black has a bunch of rares and mythics that work well in a black/green Mulch-powered self-mill deck. It is very unlikely that you end up with the Survival of the Fittest–Living Death deck, but Coffin Queen, Recurring Nightmare, and Corpse Dance are powerful, too.
Before I finish I would like to wrap this up with a few thoughts on the method that I applied. Tempest Remastered looks like a very basic draft format to me. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, but you will probably not encounter many off-the-wall decks. Consequently, there is not that much insight to be gained from building draft decks, because most of the decks will look the way you expect them to anyway. My method is probably more valuable for draft formats like Rise of the Eldrazi, Innistrad, or Modern Masters where you potentially have a bunch of linear draft strategies, and you want to figure out beforehand which paths are most promising. On the other hand, even in a format as straightforward as Tempest Remastered building draft decks provides you with a tool that gets you much more involved with the set than just looking at the spoiler and assigning arbitrary ratings to individual cards.