I love Khans of Tarkir draft. The morph mechanic has been implemented well, there is an interesting tension between card power and mana consistency, and it allows for many different approaches that can all work. At the Pro Tour, for example, Ari Lax drafted five-color morphs, while Stanislav Cifka pursued two-color aggro—and both of them went 5-1 or better!
Personally, I prefer decks with consistent mana, but this Limited format has been one of the most divisive in recent memory. There are so many different approaches to the format that it is hard to find agreement on card ratings, archetype preferences, or pick orders. This is great! It means that there’s a lot to explore and that the format will remain fresh as it progresses.
It also means that I won’t be able to offer anything close to a definitive format guide today. What I will offer is my perspective, which is largely in line with the view shared by team Cabin Crew. From our practice drafts at our cabin in the woods (we did around 15-20 of them), we concluded the following:
- Blue is the best color. Games frequently come down to a board stall because there are so many high-toughness creatures, and you need a way to break through. Blue is best at this because it has many evasive creatures like Mystic of the Hidden Way and tricks like Crippling Chill.
- Black is the worst color. Debilitating Injury is good and Sultai Scavenger is fine, but overall the black commons are rather unexciting. Black decks had the worst record in our practice drafts.
- Two-color decks with a consistent mana base and an aggressive mana curve (e.g., 4 two-drops, 7 three-drops including morphs, 4 four-drops, 1 five-drop, and 6 spells) are the best, if you can get them. With a two-color deck, you don’t have to pick the lands highly, you won’t have to run many tapped lands that slow you down, and you have far fewer mana troubles. Without having to worry too much about the mana, you can focus on sculpting the perfect mana curve and picking up enough cards that can break through a board stall. This way, you can easily overrun slower decks with mana troubles. In our practice drafts, two-color decks won around 55% of their matches, compared to 50% for three-color decks and 45% for four- or five-color decks.
- A splash for a third color (mostly for morphs if possible) is still perfectly okay if you have a few lands to fix your mana, and this is actually how most of our decks shaped up. Regarding mana: I would usually be looking for 8-10 sources of a main color (with preferably 9 sources if I have multiple two-drops in that color and 10 sources if I had double-casting cost cards) and 2-5 sources of a splash color (2 sources is okay if I splash for 1-2 morphs only and 5 sources is preferable if I have multiple spells in that color). To get a 9-8-4 mana base, which is typical, you need 9+8+4=21 sources in total, which you can achieve with running 3 dual lands and 15 basic lands. That’s a good baseline to strive for.
- Most decks want to run 18 lands because you really want to be able to play a morph on turn three and unmorph it on turn five. If you miss your fifth land drop, then you can get pretty far behind.
- Two-drops are important. If you have a relevant body on the table while your opponent has nothing, then you have a head start in the mana-usage and damage race. Since turns three and four frequently come down to just playing morphs, even a 2/1 with no abilities can already get you ahead.
- I already mentioned that if you go for a two-color aggro deck, then it is important to have some cards that can break through a board stall. But this point deserves to be reiterated. You can curve out nicely with bears and morphs and have your opponent down to a low life total early on, but there are plenty of 2/5s, 3/6s, and so on in the format. You need several ways to break through and to close out a game. It could be an Arrow Storm and a Master the Way to burn your opponent. It could be a Crippling Chill or an Act of Treason to take out a blocker. It could be a bunch of creatures with evasion to fly over. One way or another, you will need a lot of these cards, and blue has the most.
- Looking at the win records at our practice drafts, blue/green was the best two-color archetype and Temur was the best clan.
- The enemy-color pairs (R/W, U/G, B/W, B/G, and U/R) are better than the ally-color pairs because they leave you open to draft two different clans as opposed to only one. Moreover, they contain good gold cards. However, drafting an ally-color pair is still acceptable if, for instance, you were mono-green after pack one, took Wingmate Roc at the start of pack two, and found no mana-fixing for Abzan.
- The format is tempo-based, so it can often be correct to play morphs face-up. Generally, if a morph is not the last non-land card my hand and I have the mana available, then I’ll usually play it face-up. Hence, when evaluating morphs, both their face-up and face-down sides have to be considered.
- This is not really related to pick orders, but if your opponent has morphs on turn 3 and 4, then the first-played one is typically one that they want to trade in combat early on and the second-played one is usually a better morph. Keep that in mind when deciding which creature to block or where to point your removal spells.
- Although I don’t like to draft five-color, it is still a good fall-back option if things go wrong early on. For example, if your first six picks are two lands and four multicolor cards in four different clans, then the only reasonable way to salvage that mess is by going five-color and snatching up all the lands you see from that point on.
Mostly adhering to these guidelines on how to tackle the draft format, the combined record of team Cabin Crew at the draft rounds of the Pro Tour was 43-23, which amounts to a 65% match win rate. We may have been on to something.
Now let’s move on to a pick order list. The list ranks all cards in Khans of Tarkir from high to low as a guide for the first-pick-first-pack decision. It is based on the power of the cards during game play—the monetary value is not taken into account. I broke the list down into separate categories to make it easier to read and remember, but you can think of it as one continuous list if you like.
The Top Rares
I would pick these cards over any common or uncommon. The white 3/4 flyers are the best cards in the set, and the red hard-to-kill flyers can win games by themselves as well. Ghostfire Blade may not be as powerful as the flyers, but it is a mana-efficient way to turn any morph into a huge threat, and more importantly, it leaves you open to any color combination, will allow you to postpone your color decisions and always yields a nice card for your deck.
Duneblast is spectacular, even if it has three strikes against it: it’s multicolor, it’s black, and it’s seven mana. Despite those shortcomings, it still wins the game pretty much every time you cast it, so I’m willing to take it early and even splash it in a slower, more controlling deck.
The rare morphs are all fine to cast face-up if you need to curve out, but they are even better face-down because your opponent will never see the effect coming. Your opponent might play around the common morphs, but hardly anyone considers the rare ones, so you can easily wreck your opponent with them in combat.
Granted, it is questionable whether or not Rattleclaw Mystic, Kheru Spellsnatcher, Jeering Instigator, and Grim Haruspex should be as high as they are, and I actually had the top uncommons over them when I started on this piece, but I wanted to show this list with crisp categories for retention’s sake and I have always been impressed by these morphs: They’re good both face-up and face-down, they are easy to splash, and they leave you almost as open as an artifact would. For example, even if you end up with a Jeskai deck, that first-picked Rattleclaw Mystic can still provide relevant fixing and that first-picked Grim Haruspex can be easily splashed off of a Dismal Blackwater and a Nomad Outpost.
The Top Uncommons
The fourth uncommon, Icefeather Aven, is a multicolor card, but (just like Sagu Mauler) it’s in the best color combination and it’s really powerful either morphed or unmorphed, so I’m okay with taking it early even over good single-color cards.
Rounding out the top uncommons, we have a bunch of efficient single-color cards that are always fine to start your draft with. Remember that two-drops are important.
The Top Blue Commons and Uncommons
We now get to the best commons, and in line with my preference for the blue evasion decks, they are all blue.
Mystic of the Hidden Way as the best blue common is probably controversial. If color preference was not a factor, then I could see a card like Debilitating Injury as the best common, but black sucks, and the unblockability of the 3/2 is a one of the best ways to break through a creature stall. The other blue cards in the list can help beat big ground blockers as well.
Some of the Best Multi-Color Rares
All of these cards are obviously really good—if you can cast them. I don’t like to start the draft with a card like Mantis Rider because it’s far from easy to compile the mana base that is required to cast it on turn three consistently and because you pigeonhole yourself into Jeskai right away, leaving yourself with fewer options to move into an underdrafted clan or, even more importantly, go for a two-color deck. In line with this logic, the two-color cards are ranked higher than the three-color cards.
To reiterate, the lack of flexibility is the reason why I rank all of these multi-color bombs lower in this first-pick-first-pack list than some of the arguably weaker single-color cards. But you bet I’ll pick Mantis Rider over Jeskai Windscout in the second pack if I am in Jeskai and have enough fixing.
Good Single-Color Rares
These cards are expensive, situational, and/or slow, but they can still have a big impact on the game, so I wouldn’t be unhappy if I would start off my draft with any of these. If I start with End Hostilities, then I might switch to drafting a five-color deck with a Banner or two.
If you’re planning to draft five-colors, then there’s no question that you should pick these cards over, say, the top evasive blue commons. However, my plan when I’m going into a draft is to assemble a two-color deck if possible, so I have these lands a little lower than you might expect.
Good Single-Color Commons and Uncommons
No morphs can flip over for four mana or less and win combat, but Ruthless Ripper and Dragon’s Eye Savants can provide a massive tempo swing. Imagine that your opponent attacks their morph into yours on turn five. You block, and they unmorph Snowhorn Rider. If your morph is Ruthless Ripper or Dragon’s Eye Savants, then your opponent has just wasted five mana, and you are now in a prime position to take over the damage race. Additionally, both morphs are good face-up if you’re low on mana or falling behind. I like Temur Charger and Horde Ambusher a lot too, but that’s mainly because they are good two-drops that have bluffing potential or surprise value as morphs later in the game.
I consider Savage Punch, Mardu Warshrieker, Feat of Resistance, and Debilitating Injury to be the best commons of their respective colors. As long as you draft the right deck to support them, Savage Punch can be better than Doom Blade and Mardu Warshrieker can be better than Black Lotus. (Okay, that last one is a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea.)
You may also notice that flyers are rated quite highly. Evasion is one of the keys to winning in this format.
Decent Multi-Color Cards
All of the above cards are great, but ranked a little lower because they are multi-color. Black cards are also ranked a little lower than non-black cards because of my color preference.
I have to note that at this point, the concept of a first-pick-first-pack pick order list starts to break down a little because I’ll rarely first-pick any of these cards, and when I would have to choose between, say, Summit Prowler, Abzan Charm, and Thornwood Falls for my third pick, the cards that I’ve drafted prior to that will have a much larger influence than any list or ranking. So ranking these cards in a meaningful way is difficult, but I still tried.
Decent Single-Color Cards
All of these are generally fine to have in your deck, although the power of some of these cards will be largely deck-dependent: Incremental Growth can range from great (in an Abzan deck with multiple creatures that grant abilities for +1/+1 counters) to mediocre (in a deck with few creatures), Raiders’ Spoils can go from excellent (in a W/B deck with plenty of Warriors) to unplayable (in a five-color deck without Warriors), and so on. It’s tough to put cards like these in a list, but the cards are still approximately in order.
These lands are substantially worse than the tri-lands, but I still like to have a few of them in my deck.
The Rest of the Playables and Mediocre Cards
All of these cards can have their role (from deck-defining to 23rd card) in the right decks.
The Last Picks
Ugin’s Nexus was not designed with Limited play in mind…
That’s all I have on Khans of Tarkir for today. As I mentioned, the format is pretty deep and my list is bound to change as I do more drafts, but I hope you enjoyed my perspective and will share yours in the comments!