There was a point in time where I was good at Limited. I could just go into a new format and quickly figure out how to effectively draft it. I would usually figure out a few different strategies that tailored to my playstyle and lean toward drafting those archetypes if possible. After the first few picks, I could usually tell if a strategy was open or not and whether to go in on it. Most importantly though, I knew what cards mattered for each of the different archetypes, and I could just stay open and feel comfortable drafting anything.
Much of that was because I was in practice. I spent countless hours drafting on Magic Online, at people's homes, and at tournaments after I had dropped. Just like anything else, the more time you spend on something working to perfect it, the better you will get.
I used to love Sealed PTQ season. I always felt that I had the best chance of succeeding at a Limited PTQ because I didn't have to compete with people who were more invested or better prepared for whatever Constructed format was in session.
In fact, my first PTQ win was Innistrad Sealed. I still remember that tournament vividly. While I have improved a lot as a player since then, I still played well that day, and I was in my element. I firmly believe that triple Innistrad was the best draft format ever, and I drafted it an uncountable number of times on Magic Online. I filled a 4x playset of nearly every card, including most mythics, just by drafting enough times to open them all. I was very good at that format and was rewarded with a PTQ win.
Somewhere along the line, I stopped drafting nearly as much. There was a combination of factors that played into this. First and foremost is that as the Versus Series started growing, and as I started writing articles more frequently, I became more invested in Constructed. Simply put, people simply care more about Constructed articles than they do about Limited articles. It was more rewarding to both me as a writer and to most of my audience to write about Constructed.
Secondly, the Open Series really pushed me more into Constructed, especially after they abolished Draft Opens. While Draft Opens weren't that successful as a whole, I loved them and was sad to see them go. As a result, I started getting more invested into the Legacy format and started playing that on Sunday instead.
When you travel every weekend to a tournament that features two different Constructed formats, you start to value testing for those formats a lot more than you value drafting. Where I would normally fire up a draft or two on Magic Online, I started joining a Standard 8-man or Daily Event instead.
A few years ago, I would have considered myself a "Limited specialist." Lately, I am known as a "Constructed specialist" that doesn't know much about drafting. Funny how things can change in a few short years.
I'm looking to change that paradigm. Recently, I noted how I have had very average Limited results in Pro Tours, and how a good Limited performance can really make or break a Pro Tour for anyone. It is no surprise to me that my best Pro Tour performance was Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx where I went 5-1 in draft. Having that kind of a huge record boost will go a long way in helping to temper the swings of Constructed matches.
Lately, I've been having great success in drafting a set...after the Pro Tour for that set. Yep. After the event where drafting matters most, I have been able to figure out the format. Perfect timing! I didn't figure out Born of the Gods in time and went 2-4 in Valencia. I later figured it out and had great success drafting it. I got lucky in Atlanta because I had already figured out drafting Theros and Born of the Gods, and Journey into Nyx didn't change the format much. My preferred archetypes, U/W, U/R, and R/W were still quite good, and I was able to get by at 5-1 in the Pro Tour and 5-1 at GP DC just by sticking to my guns and drafting those colors.
I went 3-3 in Portland, having not quite figured out M15 draft as well as I would have liked. Since then, I have drafted a very large number of times and feel like I have a great grasp of the format. If I had been able to learn it in time for the Pro Tour, I might have been able to put up a strong enough performance to hit Gold.
At any rate, the long and short of it is that I've been practicing. Grand Prix Salt Lake City is M15 Limited, and I have been doing a lot of drafts and Sealed events on Magic Online in preparation. I aim to be a better Limited player for upcoming Pro Tours, and I'm putting in the time to improve. I also want to do well at the Grand Prix so I can get back onto the Pro Tour train again.
On that note, let me get to what this article is actually about: M15 Draft. I've learned a ton about the format and figured out some of the best archetypes you can draft and what you should be aiming to do with each archetype and what cards matter most. I'd like to share that with you, so buckle in your seatbelts, because it's going to be a smooth and easy ride.
U/R "Tinkerer, Taylor, Scrapyard, Spy"
This is my favorite archetype to draft and also the archetype that I have been performing the best with. Some of my U/R decks have looked like steaming piles of garbage, and I have still managed to do quite well with them. Sometimes looks can be deceiving though, and a pile of random crappy creatures and some tricks and ways to push through damage can just get the job done.
Did I say crappy? I meant scrappy. As in scrapyard. As in Scrapyard Mongrel. Along with Aeronaut Tinkerer, these two cards make up the heart and soul of the archetype. A 2/3 flier for 2U and a 5/3 trample for 3R are both fairly strong creatures, and if you draft the archetype well enough, they will be nearly always turned on.
Scrapyard Mongrel rarely tables for some reason, but Aeronaut Tinkerer does quite often. I think the most likely explanation is that a Hill Giant is a decent creature, but a Riot Devils is a bit worse, so people are willing to play Scrapyard Mongrel even without artifacts, but they are less willing to pull the same trigger with Aeronaut Tinkerer.
The basic idea behind this archetype is that you want to use aggressive, evasive, and tempo creatures to put pressure on your opponent and keep them from fighting back with burn and bounce spells to handle their problematic cards.
An example of an average game involves you playing a couple of two-drop creatures, like a Borderland Marauder and a Welkin Tern, following it up with some of your artifact loving creatures like Tinkerer and Scrapyard Mongrel, and then using cards like Inferno Fist, Lightning Strike, Peel from Reality, Into the Void, Frost Lynx and so forth, to keep your opponent from being able to profitably block or profitably race. They might get a Siege Wurm into play and maybe even hit you a few times with it, but you can typically finish them off just in time!
On average, my U/R decks have about five artifacts and about five non-creature spells. Sometimes, those overlap, such as with cards like Hot Soup and Sacred Armory, two artifacts that will frequently go as late as 10th-12th pick but are actually fantastic cards for this archetype. Sacred Armory is so good that I've actually first picked it a few times and am never sad to take it second or third pick out of a mediocre pack. It turns creatures like Forge Devil that do so much work early in the game into real threats later on, and it is very good with unblocked flying creatures.
You want one or two copies of something like Peel from Reality in your deck, but this card goes very late in most drafts, so it is rarely the case where you can't end up finding one. I will rarely take Peel from Reality over another card for the archetype unless it is late in the draft, and I really need to slip on a peel.
Cards You Want to Draft:
Ensoul Artifact: I will take this over almost anything if I'm in this archetype. Card is stupid good.
Darksteel Citadel: Most of the red and blue cards you play in this deck only have a single color of mana, and you're also playing a number of artifacts so it is rarely going to mana screw you. Darksteel Citadel is an easy way to cheat your artifact count because it is a free slot in your deck. It also means your Tinkerers, Ensouls, and Mongrels will always be turned on. This card usually comes late, but I always snatch them up.
Shield of the Avatar: This card is much better than it gets credit for. It basically makes your creature indestructible if you have a bunch of creatures in play. If there is one thing I've learned from Ensoul Artifact on a Darksteel Citadel, it's that indestructible is a good thing.
Bronze Sable: It's a reasonable two-drop creature that trades with everything else, and it can sometimes be the artifact you need to get your synergies online. I don't value them that highly and will usually just trade them in combat, but it is still worth having.
Amphin Pathmage: This card is great for pushing through damage later in the game after your opponent has stabilized.
Cards that are normally good: Stuff like Into the Void, Illusory Angel, Lightning Strike, Stoke the Flames, Cone of Flame, etc. are still very good. These are good cards in nearly every deck playing blue and red, and they certainly aren't worse here. Into the Void is especially fantastic in this archetype.
Cards You Want to Avoid:
Will-Forged Golem: While it seems like a fat artifact creature would be good in this deck, that rarely works out in practice. It's been very underwhelming.
Shrapnel Blast: The deck usually only has about four or five artifacts total, and while the artifact synergies are great, you don't want to rely on them. Also having this card pressures you to sacrifice an artifact and turn those synergies off.
U/W flying creatures has been a fairly staple draft archetype in nearly every format ever. You just take the flying creatures from blue and white and try to supplement them either with tempo spells to win the race, or defensive ground creatures to hold down the fort long enough to win the race. It isn't much different in this format.
I'm a huge fan of Heliod's Pilgrim. I think it is one of the best white cards in the format. U/W is also a great Heliod's Pilgrim shell. Not only does Pilgrim offer to boost your fliers so they can keep attacking through bigger defensive flying creatures or boost them to be big enough to race ground creatures, but Heliod's Pilgrim can also search up powerful blue enchantments like Ensoul Artifact or Encrust. I have won a decent number of games in this format by just playing Heliod's Pilgrim on turn 3 and searching up Ensoul Artifact to play on a Darksteel Citadel on turn 4.
Cards like Sacred Armory are so unbelievably good with flying creatures, especially Sungrace Pegasus, that it is sometimes worth building an artifact subtheme with Aeronaut Tinkerer, since having access to another flying creature is hardly a bad thing. A Sacred Armory, a few Bronze Sables, and a Darksteel Citadel should get the trick done.
Cards You Want to Draft:
Divine Favor: This card is great in any white deck but especially awesome here because you gain life, which helps racing, and you can make your fliers bigger than their fliers or your ground creatures big enough to soak up attacks.
Sungrace Pegasus: This card is fantastic. I squeal a bit inside whenever I pick one up for my deck like fifth pick or later.
Coral Barrier: This is the perfect Coral Barrier deck. Not only does the Squid sometimes get in for a lot of damage, but Coral Barrier provides great ground defense to buy time for your fliers to finish them.
Research Assistant: It's a good early defensive creature and can provide you with some great card filtering later in the game. The ability to loot for four mana comes up far more often than you might initially think.
Jalira, Master Polymorphist: This card is actually extremely good and surprisingly so. The ability can be used at instant speed, so at worst you can block a big creature, and then sacrifice your blocker to replace itself. At best, you turn things like Squid tokens, Coral Barriers, Heliod's Pilgrims, and other assorted value creatures into things like Nimbus of the Isles or other flying creatures. I had one deck where I was planning on doing the old Coral Barrier into Stormtide Leviathan trick, but it never happened.
Cards You Want to Avoid:
Midnight Guard, Preeminent Captain, Oreskos Swiftclaw, Warden of the Beyond: Basically, creatures with mediocre power and toughness that just sit on the ground aren't going to usually be very good in this kind of archetype. You'd rather use those slots for great defensive creatures or creatures that do things, like Heliod's Pilgrim.
Personally, I haven't been the biggest fan of this draft archetype, but when the pieces come together it is definitely a formidable foe.
The idea behind this deck is to use Satyr Wayfinder and Necromancer's Assistant to fuel your graveyard. Between cards like Invasive Species and Roaring Primadox, you can often repeat this process over and over again.
What is the payoff? Gravedigger, Undergrowth Scavenger, Restock, Unmake the Graves, and Endless Obedience are the reasons you want to dump cards into your graveyard. This deck also benefits from Satyr Wayfinder and Necromancer's Assistant actually being relevant bodies in this draft format. Satyr Wayfinder can trade with a lot of two-drops, such as Child of Night or Oreskos Swiftclaw. Necromancer's Assistant can also trade up with a number of bigger creatures, such as Juggernaut or Thundering Giant.
The key when drafting this archetype is to value cards that fill your graveyard higher than cards that utilize the graveyard, with the exception of Gravedigger, since it is an uncommon and also much less likely to table than a card like Undergrowth Scavenger or Unmake the Graves.
Cards You Want to Draft
Plummet: This deck is glacially slow and grindy and has a real issue just dying to flying creatures in the meantime. I usually maindeck a Plummet, unless I have a ton of other removal spells or reach creatures.
Netcaster Spider: This is a very high pick in this kind of archetype. If you're looking to draft G/B then you want to grab these as highly as you can.
Necrogen Scudder and Carrion Crow: See above. Having flying creatures or ways to block or kill flying creatures is essential.
Covenant of Blood: This is a perfect deck for this card. You're playing early value creatures like Satyr Wayfinder that often tend to just sit there doing not much afterward. You are also playing a grindy game where killing a creature and gaining life in the process is important.
Typhoid Rats: Having a cheap deathtouch creature is great for ensuring you don't die to early aggression and can be a good target for Unmake the Graves later in the game to be able to trade off again later on for another troublesome ground creature.
Festergloom: This is a great sideboard card, and sometimes even a maindeck card. It is a huge blowout against the white decks, and it can be very good against red decks as well. This is the kind of card that saves you from fast draws or Triplicate Spirits or other cards that can often be a nightmare for G/B.
Cards You Want to Avoid:
Crippling Blight: One of the themes of this deck is to fill your graveyard with creatures. As a result, other than powerful removal spells like Ulcerate, Covenant of Blood, and Flesh to Dust, you want to stay away from non-creature spells that don't have high impact.
Sign in Blood: This card can make your opponent's aggressive draws better, and your engine revolves around the card advantage generated from dumping cards into your graveyard and getting them back with Unmake the Graves and Restock. This is neither a creature or a card that benefits from graveyard synergies, so cut it.
Ancient Silverback: Once you establish control of the game, you usually are going to be able to win via some means. Having a card like this just hurts you early on in the game, where you are vulnerable to your opponent's deck.
Titanic Growth, Ranger's Guile, Gather Courage: These cards don't really do anything to advance your strategy, and they hurt you by being non-creature spells that don't handle the kinds of problems your opponent can present. I am always pretty unhappy if I have to maindeck these, although they can sometimes be a great sideboard option.
R/B Destroy Things
One thing about this format is that there are a lot of ways to punish people for playing an excess amount of X/1 creatures. Forge Devil, Crippling Blight, Festergloom, and a wealth of cheap blockers like Coral Barrier, Research Assistant, and the like can really punish cards like Child of Night and Oreskos Swiftclaw.
As a result, R/B Aggro decks are typically really bad. Trying to force an aggressive R/B deck with things like Hammerhands and Child of Nights and so forth rarely works out well. Every time I've drafted the archetype (and not by design!) I have ended up doing poorly.
I have had a decent bit of success, however, with a different sort of R/B deck. The idea behind this deck is to draft the beefier creatures that Black and Red have to offer and supplement it with lots and lots of removal. Rummaging Goblin is the piece that holds things together. With a few Rummaging Goblins, you can throw away extra lands or dead draws to keep chaining together big threats and big removal spells.
Nightfire Giant is one of the best cards you can possibly get. That card will simply take over games by itself, especially if you've used your other removal spells to clear the path. A card like Nightfire Giant or some other big splashy rare like Indulgent Tormenter is usually what will push me into this archetype in the first place. After that, it's important to just grab removal spells and other beefy creatures.
Cards You Want to Draft
Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient: Borderland Minotaur in legendary form, Kurkesh is an example of a fat midrange creature that excels in this style of deck. Scrapyard Mongrel is another good pick up if you can get a few artifacts to support him. You want beef that can swing through small creatures and make blocking a nightmare for them along with your removal spells.
Altac Bloodseeker: This card is fantastic in this style of deck. Along with Forge Devils, Inferno Fists, Lightning Strikes, and black removal spells, this is turned on fairly frequently, and it both deals a lot of damage and becomes a nightmare to profitably block for your opponent.
Borderland Marauder: This is another fantastic two-drop. Marauder can trade up with a lot of creatures in combat and threatens to deal a lot of damage against slow starts or when you have removal spells to clear the way.
Accursed Spirit: This card is a nice way to push through damage while your fat creatures and removal holds down the fort.
Zof Shade: This is another creature that gets better when games start to drag out or when you're able to trade a lot and kill a lot of creatures. It's important to be able to put your opponent into what our testing team for the Pro Tour referred to as "The Zof Lock." It's the situation where your Zof Shade turns into The Abyss and your opponent has to throw away a creature every turn blocking it or else they just die.
Cards You Want to Avoid:
Foundry Street Denizen: This isn't the kind of deck where you're trying to aggro out your opponent, and playing cards like this just weaken the deck.
Hammerhand: Kill them with fat and removal, not with one-shot falters.
Gravedigger: I wouldn't avoid Gravedigger, as I would still play it if I draft it, but Gravedigger is much worse in this archetype than it is in decks like G/B, and I will usually select other cards over it. What frequently happens is your small creatures trade off in combat and your bigger creatures get through, so Gravedigger ends up just having to bring back something like Torch Fiend, and that isn't particularly exciting.
The idea behind this archetype is fairly straightforward. You want to flood the board with creatures and then use effects to pump all of your creatures to create single turns where you just kill your opponent out of nowhere, or at the very least you wreck all of their blocking creatures. You can also use cheap creatures to convoke bigger cards like Siege Wurm and Feral Invocation, which both still work well with pump spells.
You want to get a mixture of creature producing cards like Raise the Alarm and Triplicate Spirits along with cards to make those creatures bigger, like Selfless Cathar, Sunblade Elf, Sanctified Charge, and the white Paragon. You don't really need many removal spells, but it is usually nice to end up with some copies of Hunt the Weak and a Devouring Light if you can find one.
Cards You Want to Draft:
Elvish Mystic: Providing acceleration is awesome to ramp into the big spells earlier and if you draft enough cards like Sunblade Elf, you can sometimes trade up with Elvish Mystic later in the game as well.
Sungrace Pegasus: This card is fantastic by itself but becomes a monster when you have access to ways to repeatedly pump it.
Constricting Sliver: This card is good in most white decks, but it is especially good here, as G/W lacks much removal and can make very good use of the body.
Charging Rhino: I think this card is great, and it provides a form of evasion which is useful in a color combination like G/W that is often plagued by having too many random ground creatures. While Charging Rhino is both random and a ground creature, he can still be very difficult to profitably block.
Seraph of the Masses: This card is a windmill slam first pick. It is easy to cast it as early as turn 4 or 5, and it can easily be a 7/7 the following turn.
Cards You Want to Avoid
Oppressive Rays: This card is much better suited to a deck like W/R that is more aggressive and is already looking to play a lot of Heliod's Pilgrims to find this card. In this archetype, you are usually looking to flood the board and then make it hard for them to stabilize against your pump spells. This usually takes a while and can be a grindy process, which leads to Oppressive Rays being decidedly less oppressive than normal.
Invasive Species and Roaring Primadox: These are usually not great since this archetype lacks a lot of good come-into-play effects. The stock on these certainly rises if you have a bunch of Heliod's Pilgrims though.
Those are the most common archetypes that I draft and see others draft. I want to close out with a few fringe archetypes I see from time to time that can be pretty powerful if done right.
This archetype uses cards like Soulmender, Divine Favor, Sungrace Pegasus, and Child of Night to provide steady lifegain in order to grow cards like Ajani's Pridemate and Wall of Limbs into enormous threats. This only really works if you manage to pick up multiple copies of Pridemate and Wall.
You can also draft this deck as Mono White and use the White Staff and Congregate to gain crazy amounts of life. You still need stuff like Mass Calcify to make that lifegain matter.
I drafted this deck numerous times in testing for the Pro Tour. Some of those drafts were huge successes and others were failures. You want huge payoff cards like Mass Calcify to warrant drafting something like this. Much like the G/W deck, you want to have a bunch of token generators along with Selfless Cathar, the white Paragon, and Sanctified Charge to hammer things home. Having a bomb like Mass Calcify is what pushes it over the top.
I've drafted this deck a few times now and had a surprising amount of success. While aggressive strategies generally aren't that great, Mono-Red can surprisingly be a successful archetype if you can pick up the right cards. You want a bunch of cheap aggressive red creatures, as many red Paragons as you possibly can get, and as many Krenko's Enforcers as you can possibly get. When your initial rush of Goblins dies out, you need that evasion to finish the deal.
This deck utilizes Heliod's Pilgrim and Brood Keeper to find enchantments and then make Dragons. I would only really pursue this archetype if I got multiple Brood Keepers as W/R has traditionally been pretty bad for me.
I'm sure there are probably a few other random archetypes that I've drafted with any success, but these are the major ones. I want to point out that normally I hate Core Set Limited. I think it's pretty boring and generally it is very difficult to beat bombs. This doesn't feel like the case with M15. I've really enjoyed drafting the set a lot and feel like Wizards did a great job on M15.
You should give it a shot as well, and see if maybe you'll end up enjoying it as much as I have.