Oh man was the past week fun! A whole week of drafting triple Dark Ascension and exploring the strategies was a week well spent. If these events are still running or if you have a Dark Ascension box and some friends that want to draft this format I highly recommend it. You may want to take this recommendation with a grain of salt since I love drafting triple every not first set with triple Betrayers of Kamigawa probably being one of my favorites. Six Torrent of Stone and 23 Mountains never looked so awesome.
Why would you even want to read about a virtually dead draft format? One reason is that it could make you view cards in a different light. When we don't have access to awesome removal spells we're going to have to do something to supplement for this (and picking removal even higher won't always work). Another reason is that if you're given a pool of new cards and a new format it's important to try make yourself accustomed to all of its intricacies as soon as possible and take advantage of the fact that other people may not be as well versed as you. This can serve as a good tool for going infinite on Magic Online or as an efficient way to acquire new cards on Magic Online.
How about we start off with some basic analysis?
Since we're drafting with three packs of Dark Ascension instead of one the first thing I usually note is that there might be certain cards that I will see more often than I normally would (for instance in DKA/INN/INN drafts). The most notable for me was Lost in the Woods.
The Lost in the Woods strategy has gained so much popularity that I need not even explain how it works. The thing that makes this strategy awesome is that on Magic Online your opponent cannot see how many cards you are bringing in or taking out. My awesome buddy Hepburn Best sided into this strategy in an in-person draft against another awesome buddy Silas Waltzer. Hepburn was using purple sleeves on his real deck and had his Lost in the Woods deck unsleeved. However Silas was unable to tell that Hepburn sided into another deck because he thought it would be blatantly obvious. The thing is that even though there will be people that may not notice you sideboarding into another deck on Magic Online there's absolutely no way for them to tell.
One time I was playing online against a R/G Aggro deck with my three-color BUG Good Stuff in triple Dark Ascension draft. Having felt I had to hope that he didn't have any answers to Lost in the Woods so that I could snag a free win I sideboarded into 42 Forests and 1 Lost in the Woods. On turn 6 he conceded the game to my only non-land card.
The real interesting part was the three minutes in between games 2 and 3. I had a decision to make. Should I go for Lost in the Woods again or not? If I don't go for Lost in the Woods I'm risking the fact that my deck is admittedly worse than my opponent's and I'm just hoping for a better hand than his. However if I stayed on the Lost in the Woods plan he could have just as easily sideboarded one of the few ways to deal with this card (which will be listed later).
What ended up happening was that I decided to go with my BUG deck. I made sure to submit my deck at 0:01 seconds so that it could appear that I didn't just resubmit a deck. It turned out that to combat my Lost in the Woods strategy he sideboarded into 43 cards and chose to play so that I would have fewer cards in my deck than him. While this strategy would have potentially stopped him from becoming Lost in the Woods I noticed that he played a few subpar cards in game 3 that may or may not have aided me in winning the match. It's really interesting to see the ripple effect that Lost in the Woods can have. In my opinion it's usually worth sacrificing a pick that's not one of the first two or three to snatch up this little mind game. Also if you get one remember to hate draft during those final picks that don't seem to matter.
So what are the answers to Lost in the Woods in triple Dark Ascension?
They are: Ray of Revelation Sudden Disappearance Geralf's Mindcrusher Increasing Confusion Shriekgeist (if he gets in a few hits early) Counterlash (pushing it) Thought Scour (if you have the same number of cards in your library) Curse of Thirst Gravepurge Harrowing Journey (similar to Thought Scour) Hellrider Diregraf Captain (with sacrifice outlets like Falkenrath Aristocrat) Huntmaster of the Fells Chalice of Life Wolfhunter's Quiver.
Out of all of these the only feasible choices that you would see in someone's maindeck are Geralf's Mindcrusher Increasing Confusion Gravepurge Hellrider and Huntmaster of the Fells. Taking the fact that almost all of these are rares I would feel the most comfortable bringing in Lost in the Woods against most non-black decks that are just a lot stronger than mine.
There goes my little rant about Lost in the Woods. If you want to pick it up just make sure that you're paying attention.
You may be asking "Alright that's great and all…but how about the other archetypes?"
Wait no longer; here comes an analysis of the archetypes I have drafted a few times!
This archetype revolves around one card in particular and that is Skirsdag Flayer. You just want to try to pick up a ton of these guys and a ton of Humans. The main cards that would make me gear towards this direction are seeing Skirsdag Flayer Sorin Lord of Innistrad Increasing Devotion and Thraben Doomsayer. You are able to get a lot of utility out of cards like Loyal Cathar and Gather the Townsfolk since you can sacrifice part of a card to the Skirsdag Flayer to destroy a creature. It's worth noting that most of the white removal is terrible since Burden of Guilt is the only hardcore removal spell while I've come to consider Skillful Lunge a removal spell as well. This is another thing that makes black so appealing since you have access to Tragic Slip and Death's Caress which always go by late since black is not the most popular color for this set. A major advantage to this strategy is that you gain a lot of inevitability in longer games and will get a lot of value out of your cards. Note that since these decks will have a lot of tokens and creatures Lingering Souls and Break the Day work well in here.
This is by far the most popular archetype in my opinion. The concept is very clear; you just play the most efficient creatures and attack a lot. This strategy will punish any slower decks or slow draws with Erdwal Ripper Hinterland Hermit Pyreheart Wolf Scorned Villager and the occasional Lambholt Elder. Immerwolf is an all-star making cards like Young Wolf and Pyreheart Wolf even more annoying. If you get multiple Immerwolfs you're definitely going to go far in that draft.
However the main card that cements this strategy is Wild Hunger. Hepburn told me that he thought that this card was going to be a big factor in Limited and as far as Dark Ascension drafts go he's definitely right. I mean if I consider Skillful Lunge a removal spell in this format then Wild Hunger is a removal spell with flashback. The easiest way to kill creatures in this format is via attacking or blocking and this makes pump spells a premium. They have no choice but to walk into your trick. To be honest the best tricks are not always the ones that your opponent will not see coming. They are the tricks that your opponent knows that you could have but they have to play into it anyways. This is the power of Wild Hunger in the R/G strategy and this type of reasoning can be carried throughout multiple draft formats.
P.S. Forge Devil is a lot better than you probably think it is as you'll be able to see by the end of the article.
Out of all of the archetypes that I've tried and seen in triple Dark Ascension draft I have to admit that this one is my favorite. You're essentially drafting the self-mill strategy except most of your picks are completely unpickable in any other archetype. Almost every time I draft this archetype I have three-to-four Thought Scour three-to-four Screeching Skaab and four-to-five Headless Skaab. No one really wants any of these cards except for maybe Thought Scour if they have an Increasing Confusion or two. This means that you can spend your early picks on all of the good cards i.e. Tragic Slip Death's Caress Relentless Skaabs Soul Seizer Tower Geist Farbog Boneflinger and Reap the Seagraf. Cards like Highborn Ghoul and Wakedancer aren't really the type of cards you want since these decks tend to be heavier in blue and Wakedancer's morbid ability is more or less irrelevant most of the time. Long grindy games will be yours for the taking and Headless Skaab will typically match up very well against R/G Aggro. Once again this is definitely the archetype I recommend the most since it will maximize the quality of all your picks throughout the draft.
The last archetype I want to talk about is more or less an obvious one given Drogskol Captain. Many of the cards work very well with each other. For example Bone to Ash is typically a so-so card but when you have access to Nephalia Seakite Hollowhenge Spirit Break of Day Skillful Lunge and Griptide there is no way that your opponent will be able to play around every possible card without playing into another. After Drogskol Captain the top pick is most likely Niblis of the Urn. Frenzied Goblin never looked so good. This guy is pretty much a removal spell on a creature that does not require a slight mana investment like Frenzied Goblin did. However its effect is enormous. Usually your opponent will have to decide between alpha striking every turn or just leaving the whole team back. Anything in the middle may lead them to taking a ton of damage from you tapping down their best creature and maybe even having a Griptide or Burden of Guilt. Niblis of the Mist can also compliment this effect. Once again Goblin Shortcutter never looked so good. As for the ground patrol ideally you want to have Loyal Cathar and other 2/2s for two mana. The real walls are Gavony Ironwright and Midnight Guard. These guys along with your pump spells in white will be able to halt quite a few incoming attackers. If white is decently open and the cards in the other colors are subpar I will likely go U/W Spirits especially considering how late you can sometimes expect a Drogskol Captain.
In my eyes these are the major archetypes of triple Dark Ascension draft. I would be curious to see if people came to similar conclusions as me. Feel free to comment below! Hopefully these ideas were also able give you an insight into how certain Dark Ascension cards can fit with certain concepts from Innistrad. Most of all don't be afraid to try new draft formats! They're fun!!
Thanks for reading
Jonathan "Watchwolf92" Sukenik