I love when a Draft format changes when a new set is released. I felt like Ravnica block did it the best. At first, you were pretty much one of four guilds. Then Guildpact came out, and you could mix and match certain guilds. Lastly, Dissension was released, and you had to have a plan for each pack. Some archetypes died because they couldn’t fit pack two and three in (like anything GW based), while new strategies were created. Every time a set was released you had to reevaluate every card and every strategy.
When I saw that Alara Reborn was going to be all gold cards, I knew that was sure to change something. Now that I’ve been drafting the block for a while, some of these changes are starting to sink in. The change isn’t quite as dramatic as Ravnica’s, but still worth following. I’m going to talk about a few areas that I’ve noticed the most change in.
Alara Reborn presents a lot of interesting options for an artifact-themed draft. One less pack of Sanctum Gargoyle and Courier’s Capsule hurts, but there are plenty of goodies to fill out those slots.
My favorite new artifact is Ethersworn Shieldmage. This guy is what Gluttonous Slime aspires to be, often coming down as a 2/2 blocker on turn three. Attacking your bear into their Esper mana is now a lot scarier. Later in the game, when you control multiple artifact creatures, Ethersworn Shieldmage is absolutely nuts, acting like a cycled Resounding Silence, killing two creatures while losing nothing. Not only could Agony Warp ruin your day, but now there is Ethersworn Shieldmage to worry about.
Don’t let the shield fool you, Ethersworn Shieldmage can play some mean offense. Much like Agony Warp, the Shieldmage is awesome when you’re attacking them. When you’re aggressive they are usually forced to block and can’t afford to play around your tricks. Ethersworn Shieldmage is also good at winning races, jumping in front of a Beacon Behemoth for a turn.
Make sure you notice that Ethersworn Shieldmage protects all artifact creatures, even your opponent’s. I’d hate to see somebody else make that mistake.
Another artifact creature I’ve consistently been impressed with is Glassdust Hulk. One-mana cyclers are already pretty awesome, but a few of them are great cards anyway. Once I have one-mana cyclers and basic land cyclers (from either set) running 16 lands is pretty doable, and I love running 16 land. Glassdust Hulk is amazing in every way. It comes down with four toughness, and can reliably attack for four unblockable each turn, depending on how you drafted. Unblockable is a lot different than fear, and killing four toughness is a lot different than killing three toughness. You can even “combo” out with the Hulk, pumping him up more than once in a single turn. Puppet Conjurer is a good way to get this started.
A common that I always see going late is Arsenal Thresher, probably because it’s pretty narrow. The trick is getting enough artifacts so this guy is at least a Rhox Brute each time, if not better. I’m not scrambling for Arsenal Thresher, but with enough artifacts it would be nice to have a creature bigger than their Mosstodon for four mana.
There are some artifacts from Shards of Alara and Conflux that go up in value because of Alara Reborn. The presence of borderposts make cards like Court Homunculus and Faerie Mechanist, cards I already loved, much more reliable. Sanctum Gargoyle, while already really good, gets better when you can cycle artifacts like Sanctum Plowbeast or Architects of Will. One-mana cyclers are good, and Sanctum Gargoyle makes them that much better, making it so that you don’t need a large threshold of artifacts to make him draw you a card.
Not only are there good artifacts for the artifact deck, but Alara Reborn has a lot of artifacts that non-Esper decks would like to have. Esper Stormblade, Ethercaste Knight, Skyclaw Thrash, Architects of Will, Sanctum Plowbeast, Etherium Abomination, and even the uncommon equipment cycle, mostlyBehemoth Sledge. While not all of those cards are top picks, they each often make the cut in non-Esper decks. This means that Molten Frame is definitely a better maindeck card, along with Nacatl Savage, and to a lesser extent Volcanic Submersion and Naturalize.
Alara Reborn also has very powerful artifact hate. I know my Esper decks hate to see a Deadshot Minotaur, but that guy is a beating against a lot of decks, not just Esper. Vithian Renegades, however, is just dirty. Three mana for a 3/2, and you get to kill my best artifact? Gross. He’s even worth running maindeck because he can often pick off a Borderpost or an Obelisk (hopefully not your own). Qasali Pridemage is another kick in the teeth, usually making the maindeck every time anyway because of its Watchwolf stats. It’s hard not to get two-for-oned when you are forced to kill this guy.
A mechanic that is helped a lot by Alara Reborn being 100% gold is the “color matters” mechanic. The main components of this mechanic come from Conflux, with Rhox Meditant, Parasitic Strix, Sedraxis Alchemist, Ember Weaver, and Dark Temper. The blades are really good at turning these effects on. Esper Stormblade turns on both Parasitic Strix and Sydraxis Alchemist, making an already amazing card invaluable in that deck. Even your lands can turn these on with borderposts.
The outlander cycle of protection bears (like Zombie Outlander) are even better because of Alara Reborn, blocking and attacking through even more creatures than before. The blades are one of the defining cycles of Alara Reborn, so having other two drops that automatically block three-fifths of that cycle is great. Even against a Bant deck, your Vedalken Outlander can block their Naya Hushblade, not to mention other hybridized spells. The outlanders are even playing double, turning your blades on as well as your opponent’s blades off. The outlanders continue to impress me.
With the extra value that Sedraxis Alchemist and Parasitic Strix carry these days, I’ve been drafting multicolored creatures higher in general. I’m playing Kederekt Creeper and Windwright Mage more than I used to.
The fixing in Draft has changed a lot. With only one shot at the fixing in Shards of Alara, that fixing gains more value. Obelisks were never the greatest, and you never wanted too many of them, so you tended to pick up late ones when you needed them. Now, with only one pack of Obelisks, we are realizing how nice having an Obelisk was, so we are forced to pick them a little higher than we used to.
The same is true for Panoramas, and if it’s possible, tri-lands as well – their value is increasing. Alara Reborn introduced the borderposts and the two-land cyclers, great ways to fix your mana, but they only get you two colors. One pack of three-color, no questions asked fixers (obelisks, tri-lands, and panoramas) being replaced by two-color fixing is taking its toll. Rupture Spire out of Conflux is better than ever.
I’ve also been finding the desire for fixing has increased. Alara Reborn has enemy-color cards, like Putrid Leech. If you had to match it to a shard, this would be a Jund card with the red mana missing, so you can’t play it without being a Jund deck or a five color deck. Sprouting Thrinax had the same problem. Putrid Leech, however, is only two colors. There isn’t a shard that doesn’t contain black or green mana, so it’s very likely that you’re only one color away from casting Putrid Leech. These cards tend to go later than they should, because of the awkward mana restrictions, but if you’ve got good mana-fixing you can fit these powerful late cards into your deck.
The cascade mechanic has changed the way I draft a lot. Picking up a late Spell Snip used to be an activity I enjoyed doing, but that card has rarely made the cut these days. Deny Reality is one of my favorites, but I never want to miss with it. A lot of marginal cards that used to make the cut like Angelsong, Hindering Light, and Constricting Tendrils now have a hard time making their way into my deck, mostly because of cascade. Even Molten Frame, a card I mentioned earlier as getting better, is simultaneously made worse by cascade. It’s hard to make the choice on running Stormcaller’s Boon and Lapse of Certainty in the same deck, but usually I just run them both and cross my fingers.
Speaking of Stormcaller’s Boon, I love that card with Brackwater Elemental. I’m beginning to see Brackwater Elemental for the aggressive beast that he is, and Stormcaller’s Boon pushes him over the top, literally. Similarly, drafting Demonic Dread and Violent Outburst, cards that sometime come late, also seems to be working as long as you have good two-drops to hit. They are great tools in an aggressive deck, one that Leonin Armorguard thrives in.
Speaking of two-drops, at first I thought Alara Reborn would make two-drops more readily available, giving you three-fifths of a good two-drop cycle to choose from in the blades. Unfortunately, everybody wants the blades, and because everybody wants them and everybody can cast them, they tend to get snapped up early. The other two-drops of the set, like Cerodon Yearling, are awkward to cast, so it’s hard to rely on them.
I’ve drafted this format a lot, but it’s a hard one to master. Every time we get together I see different strategies succeeding. Where I might have once done well (like the time I had three Ethersworn Shieldmages) I’ll do badly the next time I use the same strategy (like the second time I had three Ethersworn Shieldmages). The Drafts themselves are constantly shifting, too, as people adjust their values on fixing, two-drops, removal, etc. I’ve told you what I’ve learned so far, so hopefully that helps. Let me know in the forums how Alara Reborn has changed your drafting.
Thanks for reading,
loucksj at gmail