Rise of Eldrazi is a very different Limited format from what we have been playing for the past six months. Zendikar was by design an overly aggressive set with most of the creatures having more power then toughness, and there was an abundance of evasion creatures that were both cheap and easy to cast. Rise, by design I am sure, is the exact opposite. There are more creatures with higher toughness then power and evasion creatures are neither cheap to cast nor plentiful, and there are plenty of solutions to the few cheap evasion creatures that are floating around.
So what does this mean?
The answer is simple: in Zendikar the primary purpose of most draft decks was to kill your opponent as quickly as possible. Expensive cards had to do a heck of a lot to be playable. Kalitas would be a contender for the best rare in the set in Rise of Eldrazi or most other Limited formats and he was barely playable in Zendikar. Vampire’s Bite would be completely unplayable in most Limited formats but was a nice trick in Zendikar Limited. Basically, what I am trying to say is if you want to be succesfull in Rise Limited you need to stop trying to beat down. While you will usually win the game by reducing your opponent’s life total to 0, doing it as fast as possible is of no real importance. What you want to try and accomplish when you’re drafting your deck is to create a deck with as much synergy and purpose as possible.
I think there are three decks that are generally better than the others. I am sure that there are other hidden archetypes that I just haven’t found yet or am not drafting as well as these, causing me to think that they are weaker than they are, but these are the three I have had the most success with. It makes sense for me to write about them, since I am probably drafting them fairly well. I know that some decks that don’t fit directly into one of these three archetypes can definitely be successful.
Grand Prix Lyon was won by a Red-Black deck with a lot of nice removal and good solid creatures. Of course, as has been the case in Limited since the beginning of time, if you are seeing both Red and Black removal and can get a deck with 6+ good direct removal spells you are going to have a good deck. Pretty much everyone should be aware that the good removal spells in Rise of Eldrazi are tough to come by. Since the games go late and there are several mana fixers, just about every deck will splash Vendetta or Heat Ray so getting an abundance of those spells is tough to come by. On the other hand, you will generally be able to put together one of the three decks that I am going to be discussing so try and keep your eye out for what is open.
I think that the best deck in Eldrazi limited is Eldrazi Ramp. The Green mana accelerators plus good Eldrazi creatures makes for an almost unbeatable deck. You will want to have a few removal spells in this deck, but the deck can easily be succesful with just 2-3 total removal spells. You will not need to kill everything good your opponent plays, only the one key level-up guy or unblockable/intimidate guy they get online. Of course, some super bomb rare like Drana or Sphinx usually needs answering, but those won’t show up all that often.
In general, my pick order when drafting this deck is removal spells over finishers and ramp, but only the premium removal. Forked Bolt is a fine playable card but of no real importance to you. The same goes for Last Kiss and even Staggershock or Flame Slash; I am not saying you shouldn’t splash a Staggershock but it is less helpful for your deck then it would be to splash Regress, Narcolepsy, Vendetta, Induce Despair or Heat Ray.
While you will always be Green when you are drafting this deck, the other color(s) can vary. The general best way to play it is going to be Green/Black splash Red because that gives you the most access to mana accelerators, token makers, and removal. However, I frequently find myself Green/Red splash Blue, Green/Blue splash either Black/Red or both. Since your decks goals are to put extra lands into play and have the games go late, splashing is easy. Pick orders shouldn’t be followed exactly because most of the time you want a combination of cards that synergize well and not more copies of a card that is slightly better than the next card. That said, my pick order for the Green commons when drafting this deck generally is:
I am usually not too happy if I have to play any of the other Green commons in my deck. Generally speaking, an average Eldrazi that you want to play, like Crusher will fit in behind Ondu Giant and ahead of Kozilek’s Predator. Of course, the best Eldrazis like Pelakka Wurm (ya I know hes not technically Eldrazi) and Kozilek will be first-pickable above all those commons.
Normally I take one of the good removal spells I listed over any of the commons but I take the first 2-3 commons over the weaker removal spells I listed. It’s called a splash because you only want to play one of that type of land and you are not planning on having to use your cards in your splash color until the mid or late game. If you keep that in mind and prioritize the good cards in your main colors you won’t end up with a 3-color deck or too many cards in your splash colors. If you do end up with that problem it can distort your deck’s ability to function properly.
There aren’t really any hidden gems for this deck, as most of the cards that are good for you fit into your main plans of “stay alive” and “develop your mana to play busted late game cards”. Joraga Treespeaker is about the most busted card possible in this deck, if that’s not obvious at a glance. You will want to be first picking him.
Small creatures that don’t do anything are nearly worthless to you. Gloomhunter is only useful to trade with other flyers, his ability to attack for two doesn’t help your deck do what it is designed to do. As is usually the case, in this format textless creatures aren’t good, and cards that only help you attack or block like Distortion Strike and Virulent Swipe aren’t good.
You are looking for three types of cards for this deck:
2) Cards that help cast or protect these game winning cards, which basically works out to be all the Green commons I consider good. Leaf Arrow and Naturalize inparticular are worth noting, as I frequently draft these powerful sideboard cards over mediocre Green cards. When you notice you have a high playable count you want to take them higher and higher. They are game-winning sideboard cards, not luxury items that you pick up when there is nothing else in the pack for you.
3) The third type of card you want in the mana ramp deck is removal. Being able to kill the opponent’s first evasion guy or dissolve his enchanted creature can provide you with all the time you need. Since you pretty much always have inevitability, all you have to do is prevent them from beating you and then kill them with your awesome late game.
The second best deck to draft is B/R tokens, which makes use of some cards that aren’t very high picks for other decks. The main strategy is to get as many Bloodthrone Vampires as possible; you should be prioritizing this card extremely high in this deck. There are a plethora of cards that work extremely well with it and it is very hard to kill. Then you can fill out your deck with Traitorous Instincts, Dread Drones and Hatchers, Essence Feeds, Pawn of Ulamog, and even Goblin Tunnelers to make the Vamps unblockable.
Obviously, every removal spell you get is awesome because removal is really good in this format, but the sweet part about this deck is you really don’t need it. Your deck is more of a combo/affinity deck that allows the cards in it to power up each other, so killing your opponent’s creatures isn’t necessary at all for you to win.
A hidden gem for this deck is Raid Bombardment. I don’t know if it seems blatantly obvious or you are like “really, I never played that” when you are reading this, but while I would never play that card in most decks, it’s pretty sweet in this deck. The last thing I want to say about this deck is not to worry about big win conditions. In the Green deck we talked about earlier, the Crushers are a must-have. In this deck I don’t mind playing some Crusher-ish cards since I have token making, but I also don’t mind if I don’t end up with any big drops like that. Just make sure you end up with as many Bloodthrone Vampires as you can get your paws on.
I think the next most powerful archetype you can draft is UW Levelers. While this might actually be the most powerful draft deck available in the format, I don’t think it’s the number 1 you should try and draft. The thing is, this deck is very dependent on a few select cards. I don’t think I need to talk too much about it as they pretty much all say leveler on them, but If you don’t have some combination of multiple Training Grounds, Time of Heroes, or Venerated Teachers, you will end up with a really bad deck that can’t beat a Last Kiss or Staggershock.
If you do end up with 5+ of those three cards, your deck can end up nearly unbeatable. I think it is worth looking for if you happen to get two of those cards early and are seeing Blue and White, but I wouldn’t go into drafts planning on drafting this style. The problem is if you don’t have these cards that power up your whole deck, almost all the good Blue and White creatures have level up and you can only level up so much in any given game, making the others worse. Also, there is plenty of good cheap removal and bounce effects that punish you for sinking a ton of mana into one of these cards. The difference with the Green deck is your cards are very hard to deal with, whereas these small creatures generally aren’t.
There are also a few other type decks that can be pretty solid. I think a Grixis control deck with a lot of removal and Mnemonic Walls can be quite strong. You should pretty much draft that deck the same way you would draft the Green deck. Vanilla creatures are worthless too you, and it’s all about card advantage, removal and a few good win conditions. One deck I think is really bad is the W/G Umbra and Aura Gnarlid deck. I feel like when you play that deck you have to get lucky twice to win. First you have to draw the right combinations of cards, and even then your opponent has to not have the Regress, Vendetta, Heat Ray or whatever to stop you.
Obviously, everyone who has drafted this deck has “gotten there” sometimes, so they might feel its power, but believe me, when you are playing a slow Limited format, what you want are solutions and to shore up your deck’s holes. You aren’t looking for ways to either blow out the opponent or give them a significant advantage which is what they have when you spend 7 mana and 2 cards and they solve it with 1 card and 3 mana (give or take).
I think for those of you not having success in this format, the best advice I could give you is forget you ever played Zendikar. Attacking as a whole is not an OK goal for a deck. You need solutions, you need to solve your deck’s weaknesses with sideboard cards and plans, and you need ways to win. In Zendikar you would just put someone to 0 with little and medium-sized guys and most times your deck’s holes were never exploited and having a way to win wasn’t necessary outside of your reasonably costed little creatures.
You have to forget all that and move forward, because the Eldrazi are rising!