Owen’s a Win – Drafting M15

Magic 2015 draft made it clear that we need to reexamine some commonly accepted Limited fundamentals. Last week I touched on some of the cards that have gone up or down in value for me based on my experience but all that does is help you in the middle of a draft when you already know what you want to do more or less. One thing I’ve found is that it’s rare to find someone who agrees with you and all your picks for the first 5 or so picks of the draft. By that I mean each individual values the cards differently and it’s not often the picks are obvious or clear cut.

I have heard it said, correctly so, that M15 is a format where bombs play a huge role. In fact I feel that M15 may be the most bomb-driven format since Scars of Mirrodin. Now it’s easy for newer players to complain and say that losing to bomb rares is stupid and to write the format off. I also get frustrated when so few of the cards matter and there’s no interaction beyond drawing enough lands to cast the rares you’ve drawn. There is still something to be learned here though and that’s how to ensure you can win with bombs and not lose to bombs. The short answer is that cards like Dissipate are much better, and the long answer is to adjust how you draft.

In M15 draft I try to stay one color for as long as possible and to do so I often sacrifice power early in a draft. One thing I have noticed is every color but blue is color-intensive and deep to the point where you want to play nine or ten lands of that color in your final deck list. In addition to being color-intensive the cards in each color often work well with the other cards in that color. The greener you are the more green cards you want. Black has Sign in Blood, which requires a heavy-black mana base, but it also has cards like Necrogen Scudder and Cruel Sadist that make you lose life coupled with Child of Night and Covenant of Blood that let you gain life. The cards lead you in a direction where you want to be heavily invested in one color and simply splashing the second.

Take my first draft deck from Pro Tour M15 for example:

Now this isn’t a great deck, I wouldn’t dare argue that it is. I was able to go 3-0 with this build and I like to use this deck as an example because it had 10 Forests and 16 green cards in it. As my draft progressed I always took the best green card in the pack and eventually I was one of the only green drafters at the table. Living Totem isn’t amazing, but it’s pretty good, and if you have a couple Runeclaw Bears then your Living Totems get better and the more convoke creatures you have the higher incentive you have to draft cheap creatures to power them out making Siege Wurm much better and faster. I had a few games with this deck where I only drew three total lands and I would have two Siege Wurm in play by turn six. It’s pretty impressive to play a 5/5 trample with only three lands in play.

Green isn’t the only color with this theme, just look at cards like Foundry Street Denizen and Sanctified Charge. They’re just cards that are weak but fine unless you have many creatures of that color, when they become quite good. Paragons are mediocre until you have 10-12 creatures in the color of your Paragon, and then they become a total bomb.

It may seem obvious but when you do everything in your power to go one color in this draft format you not only get rewarded based on the color-centric cards that exist but you also get the very real side benefit of getting to play any bomb rare you open in future packs. I’ve had it come up many times where I’m Mono-Red or Mono-Green and I open Soul of Theros in pack 3 and I just get to play the best card in the set off 6 or 7 Plains. The cost is relatively low—I wanted to be one color anyway and the upside is very high.

Additionally, you can get passed great rares by people who do not employ this strategy. If someone is just two colors equal parts they may not be able to play a bomb rare they open making them more willing to pass it. There are situations that come up where you can be drafting Mono-Red and have the opportunity to play Kird Chieftain OR Nightfire Giant, whichever you see in the draft and decide to adjust for.

One thing that’s awesome about this strategy is that when you always take the best card in the pack of one certain color you almost never pass a good card in that color, so the person you’re passing to will very rarely have a reason to be drafting the same color as you. Then you reap the rewards in pack two.

Here are a few examples of how I would approach an M15 draft. First example has us already with a first-picked Soul of Ravnica, a great start. What would you pick second?

Well the rare is missing, so there’s absolutely no information to be gained about the card the person passing to us took, and for the purposes of this discussion let’s say we didn’t pass anything of consequence when we took our Soul of Ravnica. Speaking only in terms of power level the best card in this pack is Elvish Mystic and it’s a consideration to be sure. Dauntless River Marshal is tempting as well since it’s “blue” and just very good in general.

A side note on Dauntless River Marshal: he’s pretty good but not nearly as good as the two-color uncommon creatures in the other colors. Nightfire Giant, Sunblade Elf, Kird Chieftain, and Jorubai Murk Lurker are all absurdly good and a reason to go into a their respective color combinations but somehow the Dauntless River Marshal just falls short a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fine card but it just isn’t on the same level as the others and for that reason I prioritize it differently than the rest.

Ultimatley, I would take Welkin Tern. It does what I always want to do in this format which is stay mono-color and pass no good cards of my color. It does this by sacrificing power since I believe Dauntless River Marshal and Elvish Mystic are both just better cards than Welkin Tern. It’s also worth noting that when you have a six-mana 6/6 flying creature you would prefer if your deck was a little more on the defensive side so that you could stall to get to the late game and just win with it, Welkin Tern is a purely aggressive card so it’s not ideal but it’s still so good that I would accept that lack of synergy with my cards.

Here’s a situation that came up for me recently, pack-one pick-one I had this choice.

This isn’t a very hard pick, I windmill-slammed the Indulgent Tormentor. It’s the best card in the pack, I’m passing no good black cards, and in general it’s one of the better rares in the set. Having 3 toughness makes it weak to Lightning Strike but oddly I’ve found it’s more important to be resilient to Pillar of Light. 5 power with flying and upside for five mana is just gross. I was then passed this pack:

This is another relatively simple pick, Ulcerate is the best card in the pack and it’s on-color. An argument could be made here for Frost Lynx since it’s comparable to the Ulcerate but given my color preference at this point I wouldn’t take it. Into the Void is a consideration as well, but last week I went into detail explaining how I would almost always take Frost Lynx over Into the Void—especially so early in a draft. Next pick is where things finally get interesting:

This is a pretty nice pack. Brood Keeper, Paragon of New Dawns, Elvish Mystic, Frost Lynx, and Festergloom are all defensible picks and they each pull you into a different direction. I don’t think taking any of these cards would be a mistake, but the pick for me is clear: Festergloom.

I decided to use this pick as an example both because I think it illustrates my willingness to sacrifice overall power for solid cards in the same color and how I feel about Festergloom. I love Festergloom and I think I would play as many as I could get—up to three or four.

In our drafts before the Pro Tour, occasionally Festergloom would get sideboarded in. The more we played with it the more we began to maindeck it, and then slowly maindecking one became two and finally we were drafting them highly and always playing them main. I think the more drafts you do the better an appreciation you can gain for the card.

One thing that’s worth noting is that if you have the option to either switch colors or go in to the open color combination you may lose out on the Indulgent Tormentor which would be a disaster. If somehow it was later in the draft and the pick was closer you’d view it as picking a Frost Lynx for your blue/white deck or picking Festergloom AND Indulgent Tormentor for your black/white deck.

To my mind this is the optimal way to draft and M15 is a format that rewards this type of draft strategy much better than other formats. With the deep colors and clear incentives to try to draft solid decks as long as you don’t get too crazy you can always end up with a reasonable deck. Not to mention the ability to leave yourself open to getting lucky and opening a bomb rare in any color in the later packs. I hope this was a fun read and I’d love to heard if any of you differed in your picks or card evaluation in the comments.

Owen Turtenwald
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