Last week I discussed how to get the jump on a draft format quickly. Understanding the core ideas planted within a set is key. Hypothesizing and evaluating will earn you a good initial understanding, but the problem lies in the fact that this period is naturally short lived. There comes a time in the format when everyone understands the baseline decks and has a general understanding of which cards are good and which are bad. This is Stage 1 of a draft format, and is reached about a month into the draft life cycle.
Remember that formats evolve, so your drafting must advance correspondingly. When everyone catches up, you want to reevaluate and move on. Today I’ll talk about Stage 2, in which you use format knowledge as a tool to attack the metagame. I’m going to use the Legendary Cube again as the main example since it picks up right where I left off last time alongside some smaller BFZ specific examples as well.
Step 1: Identify When Stage 1 Is Reached
As I mentioned, Stage 1 is often reached a few weeks to a month into a format, but what are the signs that say so? The best place to look is in the draft and the games themselves. You won’t be receiving as high a quality of cards because other players are taking them earlier in the draft. In games you’ll see that your opponents have drafted decks with more cohesive strategies and that their cards are working together more efficiently.
At this stage in Battle for Zendikar Draft, devoid decks won’t have reasonable but inefficient colored cards like Makindi Sliderunner in them as often. You will also get paired up against green decks far less frequently. For Legendary Cube, it means premium creatures like Maelstrom Wanderer and Sigarda, Host of Herons are picked higher, and the average number of creatures decreases while the priority placed on removal increases.
Step 2: Think About What Has Gotten Better and Worse Accordingly
Stage 1 creates a consensus around what’s good and what’s bad. What this means for you is that what was obviously good before might not be as good now. The Stage 1 deck for Legendary Cube is all about removal and gaining tempo by trading cheap answers for expensive threats. What happens when everyone else also stops drafting as many threats and tries to prioritize removal? Well, removal clearly goes down in supply, but also everyone is now on the same strategy. Collectively, it’s less likely to work without a critical mass of resources. Moreover, the strategy itself becomes less valid. What good is a pile of Ultimate Prices and Terminates when your opponent just isn’t playing many creatures? All of a sudden it becomes increasingly difficult to advance your game plan, and when you finally do play a big creature, your opponent has the same bulk of removal to deal with it.
The same can be said for BFZ. Before everyone prioritized all-colorless devoid decks, it was much easier to get a true devoid deck. This made some niche cards like Molten Nursery much better. At the same time, the Nursery is best against green decks with a ton of Eldrazi Scions which were simply much more prevalent before Stage 1 thinking. With a decrease in green decks overall and decks struggling to get 22 colorless cards, you can easily see how draft evaluations must be changed again.
Step 3: Formulate New Approaches For Stage 2
Using your new format knowledge, think about what is now good versus common knowledge. In the case of the Legendary Cube, you need to think about something that is good versus ramp decks with lots of removal and a couple high-end threats. How do you attack a deck chock-full of removal? You either invalidate that removal or you make it inefficient. I preferred the former because it let me draft powerful but wonky decks that tried to completely avoid drafting creatures.
The most common way I achieved this was through Jeskai Ascendancy. No one was interested in it, but it was actually very good despite running very few creatures. You could loot through irrelevant pieces of your deck, and flood less often because you could get rid of unneeded ramp and lands in the late game. The deck usually won through artifact-mana combined with March of the Machines or Karn, Silver Golem. Suddenly my artifact mana would become creatures which I could combine with Jeskai Ascendancy into a 1-turn kill out of nowhere. Noyan Dar worked as a similar plan all on its own.
A different plan was to generate lots of mana and then win with an Eldrazi. This plan usually involved Basalt Monolith which could combine with either Mana Reflection or Rings of Brighthearth to get to infinite mana. A final deck which I didn’t have the pleasure of drafting, but got to see in action, was one based around Mizzix Mastery. The deck would have a ton of card draw and interaction and then win with Cruel Ultimatum or Sorin’s Vengeance. Mizzix Mastery would generate a bunch more card advantage or win the game on the spot.
The other route is to make the opponent’s removal inefficient and overload it or make it trade down. Aggressive decks were hard to draft in the Legendary Cube, but most people weren’t interested in the cheap creatures so they certainly were draftable. You could get all the cheap threats like Isamaru and Zurgo and just beat down while the opponent took a bunch of time setting up for the late game. Often these threats wouldn’t be stopped until they dealt 6-10 damage, and by that point more threats were on the board. Hard-to-answer, cheap threats like Kira, Great Glass-Spinner and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails are particularly effective in such a strategy and would often require multiple answers to remove them. One final aspect of these decks is that they could go wider than the rest of the format. Pump effects like Hero’s Blade or Day of Destiny really boosted these strategies and were key cards that the clunkier decks of the format couldn’t utilize.
Once a format is established it’s time to examine what makes that format tick. See what resources are being overvalued and which are underutilized. There are often many ways to attack a format, and going over or way under common archetypes is a good way to do so. Other times it’s best to just keep drafting Stage 1 decks, and just do that better than anyone else. Magic Origins was a good example of this, where trying to do something unique just didn’t work because that wasn’t viable with the given card pool. If you just keep your options open each draft you can evaluate whether you should draft a Stage 1 or Stage 2 deck—keep your eyes open for opportunities to capitalize on what the other drafters at your table are doing.