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Owen’s a Win – Theros Block Draft

As I write this I’m preparing for Grand Prix Philadelphia. I have put in a few hours trying to master both the Sealed and draft format and I have a few insights to share for anyone trying to conquer a Limited GP or PTQ.

The Draft

As I see it, the draft format is fast-paced and the Born of the Gods pack is incredibly important, this shouldn’t come as a shock because it’s the pack that we open first and gives us the groundwork for our deck. I have heard many people say that Born of the Gods is a weak set and they aren’t wrong necessarily, but using this knowledge to your advantage is where the skill in this draft format comes in. In many drafts you will see a terrible pack come by 2nd or 3rd pick and you need to be careful not to overvalue anything you notice about the pack as a signal. There may not have been any playables left at all and the cards that were already selected could be literally anything, any cards of any color. It’s good in these cases to make your best pick and treat that as an isolated event.

I think white is the best color and that is close to undisputed these days. Everyone knows Akroan Skyguard is the best common in Born of the Gods, the best uncommon is Ornitharch, followed by Eidolon of Countless Battles as the best rare. All white cards—interesting. All the best cards are white and the best strategy—cheap, fast heroic creatures—is also base-white, so if you could pick which color you play before the draft starts, then it’s white in a landslide.

That said, the drafting is always more interesting than that. White is known as the best for a reason, and players have adjusted to this information. Multiple high profile Magic players state on social media that they can’t get white on Magic Online because the queues are so heavily saturated with white drafters. This makes some sense to me, but in Day Two of a Grand Prix, people will be focused less on drafting white or the best color in general and more on finding the open color in the draft. For some reason in premier-level play drafts such as a GP or the Pro Tour, I have found that very often people try to draft whatever gets passed to them and they never consider forcing an option. This is likely because they don’t want to do something extreme and “blow it” if it doesn’t work out. This conventional strategy for draft is safer but its upside is much lower.

I don’t usually force any particular draft strategy but I have before. At GP Sacramento I went in to the event basically knowing I was going to draft blue/black in all the drafts I played. On Magic Online I was taking Griptide pack -1-pick-1 over Hundred-Handed One because I preferred to be UB that much. I liked all the cards that no other people wanted to play with, like Returned Phalanx and Read the Bones. I felt that both the best cards were in this color combination and the support cards were being highly undervalued and generally underutilized in the other decks. At GP Montreal William Jensen and I cooked up a similar strategy of just play only blue and black cards no matter what, and he made it all the way to the Top 4.

Sure, this is still Theros, and two of the packs still have the cards that I want in them. Now, though, I have set my sights in a new direction. Born of the Gods increased the speed of the format, and control isn’t as attractive as it used to be. Black used to be by far the best color—After Asphyxiate the next best black common is Servant of Tymaret which is highly unexciting by any measure, and the best blue common is Retraction Helix which plays terribly in a control deck, followed by Nyxborn Triton which has a similar problem.

I have grown to like red in my recent playtesting. One of my favorite decks to draft is a blue/red aggro deck with a heroic theme. You can get cards like Stratus Walk and Fate Foretold extremely late and they combo nicely with Akroan Crusader. I value cards like Dragon Mantle, Wavecrash Triton, and Coordinated Assault highly in this deck and I have to admit at first I thought it was just fun and games until I was winning 8-4 after 8-4 with it. Many games I would just start with Akroan Crusader and end up with it attacking with 5 different auras attatched to it. If you want to go for the full magical chirstmasland you can pick up a Lightning Volley and put all those Akroan Crusader tokens to work. I also quite like Vaporkin and Deathbellow Raider as they each serve as effective 2-drop creatures that other strategies can’t make good use of.

Red is one of the strongest colors in Born of the Gods, it is very likely the second strongest color of all after White. Bolt of Keranos and Fall of the Hammer are both very good cards that should be picked highly and if you ever get either of them late in the draft, should be considered a strong signal that red is open. I even like Pharagax Giant, a card I felt was pretty horrible at first. Its tribute ability is no laughing matter in a good red aggressive deck and he’s your perfect curve topper when you’ve presented a nice clock but just need a little bit extra to finish them off.

The Sealed

The Sealed format, on the other hand, is an entirely different ballgame. I have found that the slower decks win more often. I mean it’s the same cardpool and anyone can still open with Wingsteed Rider into Hopeful Eidolon to win the game, but it happens less. One thing to note is that the Sealed format is 3 Theros Boosters and 3 Born of the Gods boosters so HALF the cards you get to use to build a deck are from a Born of the Gods booster which means get ready for three copies of each of Ephara’s Radiance and Evanescent Intellect. It’s just a fact of life that Born of the Gods has a higher percentage of unplayable cards and the cards of midling power level are worse than that of Theros. Just realize that there is an overall lower card quality in Sealed than there was, and this can be used to your great benefit. Here is a Sealed deck I got recently that I thought was HORRIBLE.

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I rounded out the cards on the bottom of the screen with Mortal’s Resolve, Temple of Plenty, 8 Plains, and 8 Forest. I went 4-0 with this beast of a deck. This Sealed pool was a valuable learning exercise for me for many reasons.

The first lesson I took from this event is that Colossus of Akros is highly underrated in Sealed. I maintain that it is still wildly unplayable in draft, but because Sealed is a much slower format, Colossus is a card you should keep your eye on. I think I won about 5 games with him over the course of the 4 rounds I played, which is more than I ever would have expected. This result can be a bit misleading as I did have two Karametra’s Acolyte which is both a good card and great with the Colossus, but I still feel that the Colossus can go into other decks successfully. It is extremely important to remember though that you cannot ever reliably cast this card without some form of card advantage. In my deck, Karametra’s Acolyte can act as two or three Forests, thus providing card advantage but I could easily see the Colossus in a deck with a Divination and a Read the Bones.

I had a similar epiphany recently with a black/white control deck with Ashen Rider that was insane. I then did another Sealed, and had another black/white deck with another Ashen Rider, and it was quite bad. This was the result of having two Read the Bones in my first deck, and zero ways to produce card advantage in my second.

I will be the first to admit that the deck I showed you has many powerful cards. Phalanx Leader and Arbor Colossus are truly incredible cards and having a Temple of Plenty to fix my mana and smooth my draws sure didn’t hurt either. The value of having an on-color scry land can’t be understated, the effect it has on a given game is very hard perceive but I can assure you that both the mana fixing (which is rare in Theros) and the free scry change your win percentage drastically over the course of a long tournament.

My deck also contained Excoriate and Vanquish the Foul which I would hope to never put in my deck since they are expensive, situational removal spells. I’ll admit that I’ve grown a bit more fond of Excoriate as time goes by but in general I’m roughly 0% to ever put one of these cards into my main deck in a draft, so if I were to consider them for Sealed it would only be if I had nothing better. Sadly Fated Retribution is another card like the first two, it’s clearly powerful but I have had horrible experiences with it in draft. You pick it early and want to commit to a white control deck, but that never really works out since every high-pick white card wants you to play a low curve and be creature-focused. I usually pick Fated Retribution highly and end up with a great white heroic deck with it in my sideboard. It’s a wonderful example of a card that stinks in draft that I would love to have in my Sealed deck.

Lastly I want to talk about Vulpine Goliath, which is a card that has always been known as mediocre, because it is. In Sealed, on the other hand, he has been a bomb. I love this card and I would be happy playing two in almost any green deck I build. The much slower Sealed format is all about big creatures, either you make them with bestow cards or you plop down the 1-card combo that is Vulpine Goliath. A solid, well-costed fatty, with no assembly required. He is worse than something like Nessian Demolok or Nessian Asp, but still a card that I like to play in my deck and this is a refreshing change of pace from triple-Theros sealed.

I have to admit that this Sealed format is as interesting and as challenging as many other sealed deck formats I have played over the years, and I for one can’t buy into the notion that it’s a bad or unfun format. It’s different, and if you don’t adapt to it you’ll be left in the dust.

Owen Turtenwald
qazwsxedcrfvtgbyhnuj on Magic Online
OwenTweetenwald on twitter

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