I’ve been playing a ton Khans of Tarkir draft lately and the format is awesome! It has depth, replay value, and all the top-tier pros have wildly differing opinions. I love that so many people can take a different approach to a format and each have success. That said, there’s likely an optimal strategy mixed in there somewhere that takes a little bit of each person’s preferences, and if you can get as close to that as possible you’ll be crushing the 8-4s in no time. One place I’ve found the greatest points of dispute are at the very start of the draft! People seem to disagree even more in this format than any other about what the correct cards to take pack 1 pick 1 are. This week I’ve cracked some packs myself and I’m going to show you what I would take and give a rundown about why I think that’s the best choice.
For me the pick here is pretty straightforward and it’s Mardu Heart-Piercer. I don’t love red in this format but this card is so powerful that I’d be willing to compromise and draft a color I don’t rate as highly. I’ve heard people compare Mardu Heart-Piercer to Flametongue Kavu and I find that comparison to be a little ridiculous, even harmful. He’s a weaker card because while he preys on morph creatures which is very good, he relies on triggering raid which usually means morph creatures being blocked by other morph creatures.
I’ve found that to be one of the most common plays in this format—I play a turn three morph, they play a morph, and I attack with Mardu Heart-Piercer in my hand hoping they don’t block so I can get that full 2-for-1, but inevitably they block and I have my “Flametongue” stranded in my hand. Don’t get me wrong, he has other uses and he’s still a very strong card with a solid set of stats for the format, but he has been a slight letdown in practice. The next best cards in the pack are Clever Impersonator and Swarm of Bloodflies, but neither are as strong as my pick. I like Swarm of Bloodflies and if I’m drafting black I’ll pick it highly and always play it but I have never played with or against Clever Imposter. It doesn’t look like a stellar card to me but I imagine I’ll put it in my blue decks over half the time.
Once again we have another obvious pick in the form of Icefeather Aven. Icefeather is completely ridiculous, it’s flexible and powerful in any way that you use it. It’s one of the top premium morphs in the format that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Most morphs cap out at 4/4 or just something that’s slightly different from a random five-mana guy, but the Aven is unique. I have had good experiences with both Sultai Soothsayer and Sultai Ascendancy (I view these cards in a similar light but I would prefer the Soothsayer) and both of those are slightly worse cards to first pick than the best commons in this pack—Savage Punch, Arrow Storm, and Feat of Resistance. Our team did an elaborate set of rankings before the Pro Tour and we had Icefeather Aven as the second best uncommon in the set behind Murderous Cut and a card we were happy to take over any common, so as a good rule of thumb if you don’t open a bomb rare and you do open an Icefeather Aven pack 1 pick 1 you can’t be making a mistake to take it. This card is even better because I have a strong preference for two-color aggressive decks, primarily blue/green.
It’s worth noting that I think Sultai Soothsayer is a better card than Arrow Storm but I would still take Arrow Storm if those were my only two options because I would try my best to avoid first-picking a card that commits me to three colors.
Speaking of Murderous Cut—it is the best uncommon in the set so it’s an easy choice here. I would be pretty happy to start a draft this way, intending to draft white/black Warriors unless I had a strong incentive to draft one of the black wedges. Avalanche Tusker is a powerful card I’ve had good results with, but still isn’t bomb level territory and a clear notch below something like Murderous Cut. If Murderous Cut were not in the pack and I had a choice between Waterwhirl and Avalanche Tusker I would reluctantly take Whaterwhirl again in the interest of remaining two colors. Imagine a hypothetical situation in which the rare in the pack is something a little more powerful, like Savage Knuckleblade, in that case I would take Murderous Cut over Knuckleblade but I would take Knuckleblade over Waterwhirl. The next best cards in the pack after those are Hordeling Outburst, Force Away, and Bitter Revelation.
Finally! A pack that’s interesting because there isn’t a premium uncommon. I’ve heard a lot said about Ivorytusk Fortress and in the end I would rate it similarly to Avalanche Tusker: a very good card that I would need a good reason to pass if I were already in that wedge, but not a card that would make me want to go into that wedge if I wasn’t already. The pick here for me is Chief of the Edge. I view both Ride Down and Ivorytusk Fortress as better cards but I think Chief of the Edge goes into better decks more often, and in those better decks it isn’t clear that Chief of the Edge isn’t stronger than those cards as a result of the synergies you get for free.
Ride Down is great, but my problem with it is that a two-color red/white deck is usually horrible and Ride Down is an aggressive card. So, either you put it in a two-color deck that stinks or you try to build a three-color aggressive deck which is very difficult to do. This is a really good example of when I would be happy to first pick a multicolor card because I like the color combination and I feel that I’m sacrificing very little to do so. The danger in first picking a three-color card is that unless you end up in that wedge or a four/five-color deck you just can’t play it and you may waste picks trying to play it. This can derail your whole draft or leave you with too few playables, I only allow myself to do this if the card is too good to pass or if I have little to no choice. It’s less bad to take a two-color card first because you can just go two colors or you can go into two different wedges.
The way I’ve been speaking about draft in this article I could see an argument for Icefeather Aven but ultimately I would take End Hostilities. End Hostilities a bomb rare—one of the best bomb rares that you could possibly get. In other Limited formats a Wrath of God effect might be worse due to white being a very aggressive color and not wanting a card that conflicts with that core strategy, but this is not one of those formats. Worse cards like Death Frenzy that only sometimes kill some of the creatures in play are also awesome. End Hostilities combos very well with cards like Treasure Cruise and Bitter Revelation but also it just combos well with having five lands and the opponent playing more creatures than you. This may not be the most elaborate explanation of why the card is good but trust me, it’s totally ridiculous and you should not pass it.
Icefeather Aven is excellent of course and I like Winterflame quite a bit, but in the end take End Hostilites and enjoy the free wins that come along with it. It was an important moment in our playtesting process when someone pointed out that every white rare in the set is just a bomb rare so if you’re white, you get access to many more good rares than any other color.
I feel like I draft this format a bit differently than most other players and I’ve been happy with my results so far. I think it’s important to not commit too early to a three-color wedge and spread yourself too thin, white has obvious advantages due to having insane rares, and I think it’s worth mentioning that I’m not as high on the tri-lands as other players are. When I see a tri-land first pick I look for any reason not to take it and I also feel strongly that I would take any tri-colored card over any tri-land pack 1 pick 1. For instance I would much rather start a draft with an Abzan Charm than a Sandsteppe Citadel.
Thanks for reading as always and I’d love to hear which cards you think I underrated!
[Editor’s Note: This article originally pictured Llanowar Behemoth instead of War Behemoth.]