One of the most valuable aspects of testing for a Pro Tour with a big team is extensive draft preparation against some of the best players in the world. Each day the Pantheon would fire a draft pod that would make any PT coverage reporter jealous.
Finkel. Duke. Jensen. Parke. Turtenwald. Black. Rietzl. Martell.
Yes, that’s the lineup of house draft number 14.
One thing I did a bit differently for this Pro Tour was that I kept statistics in an Excel spreadsheet to get a bit of a holistic perspective on draft. The spreadsheet was designed to track individual win rates, but also the win percentages of different colors, color combinations, and strategies.
Among the more important metrics used was the idea of color density. Essentially, this stat gave a sense of which colors were being drafted the most by players in the house. From this, we could extrapolate the average number of players in each draft that were taking a particular color. Combining density with win rates is an important measure of archetype strength, since it factors in popularity. For example, if green is winning at a high rate but is not particularly popular, then it is more likely that green players are simply succeeding because they are exploiting an under-drafted color. However, if a color is both very popular and successful, it is more likely that you have found a color that is simply better (in terms of card quality and/or depth) than the others.
As with attempt at keeping stats on Magic, sample size is a reasonable issue. Our team didn’t treat these stats as gospel, but rather as guidelines and talking points. For the most part, the stats seemed to line up with the teams observations on archetype and color strength, which was promising for our future attempts.
In this article, I’ll display some of the baseline stats I collected over 16 total house drafts, and then talk a bit about my observations on each of the colors and archetypes.
In our house, white was among the most popular colors, and also had the highest win rate. This leads me to believe that white is not only the strongest color in Magic 2015 draft, but also very deep with regard to supporting multiple players at the table.
White has the best common in Triplicate Spirits—a card that is also stronger than most uncommons and many rares. Triplicate Spirits is interesting because it requires a significant commitment in terms of mana (double-white casting cost), and strategy (a high density of cheap creatures for convoke). As a result, Spirits is generally reserved for committed white drafts, as opposed to a card like Lightning Strike which can be put in any deck with a couple Mountains and reasonable fixing. Often the best card in a color is cannibalized by other drafters looking to splash—but this is rarely the case with Triplicate Spirits. I could go on and on about this card—like how it is great early or late, when you are ahead or behind—but you get the idea.
Many of white’s other best commons are cards like Sanctified Charge (which is great in any deck, but especially heavy white), or cheap creatures/spells such as Raise the Alarm and Kinsbaile Skirmisher.
On the other hand, I believe that blue is the worst color in Magic 2015 Limited. In our house, blue was both relatively unpopular and the least successful. Blue wasn’t losing because too many people were fighting for it. Blue was losing because it simply isn’t very good. Blue’s role in Magic 2015 Limited faces an identity crisis. The best two commons, Welkin Tern and Frost Lynx, are at their best in an aggressive, tempo-oriented deck. However, the next best two commons are probably Coral Barrier and Divination—both of which are much more at home in a defensive or controlling strategy.
This puts blue in the awkward position of wanting to be aggressive, but not having a high enough density of early creatures to take advantage of the premium cards like Tern and Lynx. Even Peel from Reality is deceptively bad in aggressive decks, because it is not a pure tempo play. You don’t really want to have to sacrifice board position. The blue control decks are similarly hindered by not really wanting these cards as badly. (Though Lynx is a reasonable defensive play.)
As a result, I feel blue is best in M15 draft as a support color in a red-based aggressive deck, or sometimes in a heavier black-based control deck.
Black’s stats are a bit interesting because it has a relatively low win rate of 47%, but is also tied for the most popular color. This leads me to believe that black was slightly over-drafted in our house—and I think I know why.
Black has two very strong premium removal spells at common: Flesh to Dust and Covenant of Blood; as well as a number of strong uncommons: Ulcerate, Stab Wound, and Gravedigger. The existence of these cards suggests that more often than any other color, you will open a pack where the best card is black. As a result, a higher number of players become moderately committed to black early, and if too many of them stick with it, all of those players may end up with a weaker deck. This is particularly dangerous because there are many black cards that want a high Swamp count—like Flesh to Dust and Sign in Blood.
Green is a great base color. It is reasonably deep and powerful at common, and can be paired with any other color to good effect (though I don’t love UG personally). The best commons are Siege Wurm, Elvish Mystic, and Netcaster Spider.
At the Pantheon House, we valued Siege Wurm exceptionally highly—but found that this was not necessarily a shared opinion. Siege Wurm went reasonably late in Pro Tour drafts—something that our team was often able to take advantage of. I’ll talk a bit more about convoke later.
Red is the default aggressive color, and excels in that role. Red is in the exact opposite situation of black, because with the exception of Lighting Strike and a couple uncommons, there are very few red cards that you want to commit to early. As a result, players who move into red in early to mid-pack one will often reap the benefits. From a density standpoint, red wasn’t particularly under-drafted, but it also generally feels like you aren’t competing much for it.
Understanding the colors individually is only part of drafting well—you also have to think about how well they pair with other colors.
The breakdown of each two-color combination (and Mono-Red, which was drafted often), is as follows:
I won’t go into detail on every single color-combination, but there are definitely some that are worth talking about.
Green/white was by the far the biggest outlier, with a staggering win rate of 67%. It was also the most popular two-color combination, once again a sign of strength and depth. Green and white have the most synergy of any two colors. The “best” way to draft green/white is with a high density of creatures, centered around convoke. There are so many common, cheap creatures in GW that it is easy to take advantage of spells like Triplicate Spirits, Siege Wurm, Seraph of the Masses, and Sanctified Charge.
One running theme is that heavy-creature decks tend to win at a high rate. Tricks like Titanic Growth, Ephemeral Shields, and even Gather Courage were not rated particularly high in our house, and would often be cut from decks. On the other hand, random creatures like Selfless Cathar, Soulmender, and Bronze Sable (cards that were rarely played in their original formats), are actually pretty good in Magic 2015.
Sanctified Charge probably has the biggest and least obvious payoff for this deck. Other versions of this card in previous formats have often been mediocre, but Charge is among the best white commons, and is simply a great card in M15.
Even bad-looking green/white decks usually ended up overperforming in Team Pantheon drafts.
On the other hand, black/red was the worst performing deck of any two-color combination, but also fairly popular. As I’ve stated previously, Magic 2015 Limited often centers around density and strength of creatures. Black and red as a combination suffers from weakness in this area. In general, I’ve found that decks with lots of spells don’t tend to win very much in M15, a flaw that black/red often has. Myself and my teammates would draft good looking B/R decks with lots of removal—but typically these decks under-performed.
For the most part, mono-red decks in our drafts were very aggressive but had the same issues as the black/red decks I described above. However, red decks with either an artifact focus (Scrapyard Mongrel and Shrapnel Blast) overperformed. Andrew Cuneo also had a deck with 4 Generator Servants, 4 six-drops, and Obelisk of Urd on Elementals (for Servant and Miner’s Bane!), that went 3-0 in one of the drafts.
Magic 2015 draft is a deep format compared to previous core sets. There are a bunch of non-intuitive paradigms—mostly the relative weakness of spells and strength of random 1/1 creatures. As the result of creature density, tempo plays like Peel from Reality and Hammerhand are weaker than normal. These cards are typically great against a board of one or two defensive creatures, but not so much on a flooded board. On the other hand, Sanctified Charge is a certified bomb-Overrun at common, when cards like Inspired Charge in previous sets have been just filler.
Aggressive decks in Magic 2015 are deceptively hard to build. Random 2/1s like Torch Fiend backed up by tricks and removal will not get the job done. Instead, aggressive decks usually focus on flooding the board early and winning via evasion (Triplicate Spirits, Welkin Tern, Krenko’s Enforcer), or in one fell swoop (Sanctified Charge, Lava Axe).
Control decks in Magic 2015 must similarly focus on dealing with swarms. Festergloom is among the best black commons, despite looking mediocre on first glance. Festergloom is one of the few ways to deal with Triplicate Spirits, or even to catch up from behind. Cards like Coral Barrier and Festergloom are great, while bad 1-for-1 removal like Encrust is behind the curve for control decks.
Keep in mind that controlling creatures early will make the more powerful late game cards like Triplicate Spirits and Siege Wurm come down a turn or two later—which can often make all of the difference.
Games in Magic 2015 Limited are also often decided by bomb rares. This is not uncommon for core sets, but feels particularly pronounced in this one. As a result, cards like Dissipate, Flesh to Dust, and Pillar of Light serve an additional role—as insurance against a game-winning rare or mythic. Many decks should also consider playing Peel from Reality or Void Snare to buy a turn and hopefully win before a bomb would otherwise take over. In general, the B/G graveyard deck has the best support system for bombs, since you are most likely to have access to your bomb early.
I’m hoping to improve my statistical approach to Limited for future Pro Tours. The team as a whole found it very valuable, but I think there is still work to be done to create a more robust platform and narrow in on the most interesting data. Dealing with splash colors and land counts are probably the next obstacle I’ll be tackling. Feel free to mention any ideas you might have moving forward.
Thanks for reading,