How To Draft New Phyrexia
What does a MODO (Magic Online) grinder do when they are waiting for the bannings to take effect? Draft. Not just when one is bored, but all day, every day. I have been doing upwards of 15 drafts a day this past week, and all I want to do is share in what I have discovered. Tomorrow, I'll be bringing you information about new Standard, but today is all about looking at 14 cards. Let's begin!
It seems like a very difficult task to fit everything I know about this Limited format into one article, so I guess I just have to cover the most important things.
Don't Play Blue
Sure, Draft is an amazing format because it is always self-correcting. Even the worst color can win drafts if there is only one person taking cards in that color, but I have found no success with blue cards.
The first reason for this is that this format is very removal and bomb heavy. These types of spells are very crucial to success. There are very few blue bombs to pick up in any of the packs, and most of the “removal” spells are situational and are able to be killed. The closest thing they have to removal is Quicksilver Geyser, which I have found myself splashing numerous times.
The next reason is Phyrexian mana and how it made every other color better but blue. The most powerful spells in blue are the Mind Controls. Every other color has rares and mythics that completely take over games, while blue is stuck with one great removal creature in Phyrexian Ingester, but the rest of the bombs are just fair creatures. The best way to play unfair is to take their unfair cards.
Everyone has access to Apostle's Blessing now. This is a very real card that finds a home in decks that like protecting bombs. Arrest, Corrupted Conscious, and Volition Reins have all gotten slightly weaker because of this card and because every deck has access to it.
Spined Thopter is also a “blue” card that every deck can play. This means that the plan to attack with fliers gets weaker when there are more answers to the flying creatures out there. People will also be taking flying creatures away from you.
You'll also rarely start the draft in blue. This means you'll be dedicated to two colors very early in a draft or even have to abandon a pick or two when you decide to start taking blue cards.
There is also very little diversity in the blue spells out there. If you are non-infect blue, it's very possible to have 6-7 creatures that are all very close in power/toughness, cost, and abilities. This is not a great place to be in a Limited format unless the creatures are very fast and aggressive.
New Phyrexia has also sped up the format to a great degree. Blighted Agents, Phyrexian mana creatures, pump spells, powerful infect creatures, great removal, and Suture Priest have all pushed to format into attack-or-die mode. Control decks are very difficult to draft, and unless you have the bombs, you don't want to be playing a long game.
The day of Hexplate Golem (Blue Durdle Control) is over, and you have to start accepting it. Luis Scott-Vargas is just a god of the game to be able to pilot his draft deck to the title in Kansas City.
Go With the Flow
The next lesson I had to learn the hard way is to never force a strategy. I think you all know that feeling where you sit down and only have time to do a single draft. You heard about a sweet archetype that you want to try so you start taking cards for that deck over a slightly more powerful card. In some formats, that can work, but this is not one of them.
The reason why this is a bad idea is because the pool of cards is so amazing. Unless you're supposed to be in that archetype, your deck will not be powerful enough to pilot you to the finals.
There are also players out there who tell people to try to stay monocolor in pack one by taking the powerful colored cards they see and filling in the holes with Phyrexian mana spells to help get enough playables if something goes wrong.
I'm not arguing that this is a bad idea, but it isn't a great idea. Again, this is just like forcing a strategy where you may be sacrificing powerful picks to try to get powerful picks in pack two.
It seems like a good idea, since pack two has some very powerful cards that come late if you are in the correct colors. The most significant of these are green and black infect cards. This can be easy to figure out if you read the draft well enough.
It's very important to read what type of signals you're sending the people downstream of you. Setting up a good pack two has nothing to do with playing it safe in pack one but is all about correctly evaluating what other people want out of pack one.
If you passed four Blighted Agents downstream, this means that someone picked up most of them and will pair these with green—most likely—unless they open a black card that is good in infect or started the draft with Grim Affliction. Green not only has more pump spells that go well with Blighted Agents, but Glistener Elves can go late in pack one.
If you can reason out what their second color is, that's good but not what I'm trying to get at. Thinking this way about your neighbors will help you. If you know they're taking infect cards of some kind, that means it will be more difficult to get both green and black infect cards out of pack two. Knowing this ahead of time will help pick evaluations.
This works out for the other colors as well.
It's very common to start a draft with a Volt Charge, so I'll use this as the example. You take Volt Charge over Grim Affliction in pack one. Pick two comes, and you have the choice between Grim Affliction and Pith Driller with a common missing.
I take Pith Driller here for multiple reasons. There's a decent chance that the person to your right opened the same print run you did and started off with a Volt Charge. This situation has come up for me multiple times.
I don't fully utilize print run knowledge, but every once in a while, there is an obvious one. In this set, Volt Charge and Grim Affliction show up together frequently, meaning they are sliced from the commons sheet together. There are generally discernable patterns like this one in every set. It's good information to know if you want to become serious about drafting in the near future.
Now we have Pith Driller and Volt Charge, but the person to our right is probably also drafting red. This is a difficult situation to be in. We just passed the guy to our left two Grim Afflictions that he most likely picked up, and he'll be at least looking to see if infect is open. This means that if it is open, he'll most likely be picking up infect cards in pack two.
Pack two is the best infect pack, so trying to go into infect is out of the question unless we get creative. It might be possible to push him out of infect if we pass him something of great value that is non-infect. The only way to really try to make this work is to see how the rest of the pack develops, but going into white infect creatures while passing decent spells might not be a bad idea.
The person to our right might have just taken a foil, which means red might still be open. If it is, we can keep moving in on it and get rewarded with what should be a great pack two with an infect drafter to our left.
If he is red, we can try to pick up a second color in pack one and just cut red hard in pack two, knowing we will not see any in the Scars of Mirrodin pack. This means we'll want to value metalcraft higher than usual.
There are many situations with many different conclusions, but the best plan is not to force anything after just a couple picks.
We don't know how this draft will play out, but I bring it up because many people will just take this information and start ignoring infect and/or even red. There is never a reason to count something as out of the question this early in a draft, and you do have more control on how it will play than you may think.
For example, pass your opponents every Impaler Shrike and try to get them into blue.
The Many Faces of Infect
Infect is a very misunderstood ability. I remember being ridiculed in SSS draft when I would draft a G/R infect deck with tons of removal. People just thought you had to be G/B to have a good deck. Obviously things changed because as the story says, the infection spread to the entire world. Every color has infect creatures that are all playable depending on the deck.
The biggest thing people do wrong with infect is try to be as aggressive as they used to be in SSS draft. This is just not possible anymore. There are fewer two-drop infect creatures, which means it will be more difficult to get on the board as fast.
The most aggressive versions of infect are G/W and U/G with multiple Blighted Agents.
G/W has the ability to pick up Lost Leonin in the first pack, which can deal a ton of poison counters early in the game. All four white infect creatures are very powerful and deal respectable numbers of poison counter damage.
Priest of Norn is especially strong now because the format has begun to speed up. This means you'll see a greater number of smaller creatures that get shut down by this guy. There are also two packs of white infect creatures to give you a higher chance to pick up on the archetype.
From being in the 8-4s all week, I feel that people are afraid to play off-color infect decks. Not that I don't see them, but white infect is the most common archetype I draft.
There are risks to drafting infect. Sometimes you have a weak pack and don't find the cards you are looking for. It is incredibly awkward to end up with a deck where your creatures deal different types of damage. If you're not in infect, you might have to splash an extra color or play some off-color artifact creatures, but they deal regular damage at least.
This is why you have to draft this deck when it shows up and not be afraid to pick up a Shriek Raptor when the time arises.
Using white as a base infect color turns out to be the most profitable. This is because black and green infect cards are really not abundant in the first pack. You can't really start a draft with these colors because the infect cards are so bad, and the good ones are uncommon and rare. This could set you up for a great pack two and three if everyone around you continues to ignore the cards, but it's much riskier than being white.
Red and blue infect creatures are much different. The second pack is useless in helping fill out this strategy. The plus side is that these colors have the most powerful infect creatures in the first pack. These cards are way better than anything outside of rares, but they dry up very quickly. If an abundance of green or black spells don't show up in subsequent picks, your deck will likely have ten infect creatures. This is fine if they are very strong creatures, but awkward decks are awkward. If you can't pair your few creatures with good removal and spells, it becomes a bad deck very quickly.
In times like these, I love thinking outside of the box and ignoring the infect vs. no-infect line and just brewing up a deck that plays individual threats.
Think about it like this: Normally, even though every creature deals the same type of damage, they still play different roles in the deck. Decks have creatures with evasion, big monsters to clog the board, creatures that block fliers, and all-around beat sticks. It's entirely possible to build a deck of half infect and half not if each side plays a different role from the other.
Take U/W infect for example. You'll miss out on an entire pack of infect creatures outside of Necropede, Ichorclaw Myr, and Corpse Cur. This does not mean you have to skip all of the other creatures in the pack and hope to hit Revoke Existence and Arrest. Find out what holes your deck has, and you can take creatures to fill them.
I've had decent success with U/W infect the two times I played it by starting the draft off with slow infect creatures and powerful removal—because that's what I saw. Both decks looked very clunky but got the job done. It proved to me that it is a viable strategy.
The red infect decks are much trickier. I don't like pairing red with black because the decks don't have the fat they need to control the late game. Ogre Menial is not that great when you're behind but shines when the board stalls and can hold the fort.
I have only had success with red infect when paired with green because of this fact. You end up with 2-3 red infect creatures and about the same number of red removal spells.
Go Big or Go Home
One of the interesting things I've found with this format is how often I don't end up playing 17 lands in my decks. I would say I play 17 lands 60% of the time with 16 and 18 splitting the other 40%. I have even played a 15-land deck, but that thing was a masterpiece.
The reason this comes up is because of how powerful this format is and how different the decks are. Sometimes you will open two amazing six-drops that make you not only want to make sure you hit six consecutive lands, but also make you not need to play as many spells as your opponent. The cards you have are more powerful, and it's more important to consistently put them into play rather than fear a risk of flooding.
As I said earlier, fewer games make it to the late game (which is turn 10+) because of how much faster the format has gotten.
The archetypes that tend to be less bomb-heavy are aggressive infect, White Weenie, and Bolt Red.
White Weenie tends to be every WW 2/2 in the format with Suture Priests, every Phyrexian mana creature, and Equipment. The rest of the deck is filled with whatever removal spells it can get. This is generally a splash color (Burn the Impure, Quicksilver Geyser), or it could be green pump spells.
Bolt Red is based on the same principles—very aggressive creatures based on multiple Phyrexian mana creatures from pack one. The deal with this deck is it tries to abuse Concussive Bolt from pack two to steal games when they start to turn for the worse.
I have had great success with WW, but have yet to win a draft with any red aggressive deck.
My point though is that these decks need a higher number of spells to get the job done. The cards do not go toe to toe with the great cards the other opponents might have.
The real treat is to open a hand with 2-3 lands and a curve of creatures starting on turn one. These decks are higher variance but can steal games quickly if the cards are there.
I feel that having a greater number of spells is worth the risk of getting stuck on lands in these decks, as you won't win when both players cast the same number of spells.
Before the draft starts, I'm not hoping to end up with this kind of deck, but you have to find a way to win when the packs are not being generous.
“Nice Massacre Wurm, too bad you have 0 life on turn 5!” No, I didn't make up this bad joke. I told my opponent this bad joke when I beat him after he kept a slow hand. Call shot!
Do Not Be Afraid to Experiment
This is by far the most important lesson to be learned when drafting this format. I'm very impressed with how it ended up, since I didn't like any of the previous Limited formats from this block until now. NMS sits as one of my favorites right now, and I can't get myself away from the computer.
This format is very strange in that card evaluations change from draft to draft. The list of cards I think are unplayable is constantly changing, and I find myself trying new things every day and being rewarded.
I feel people's biggest crutch is that they're too reserved. Don't be afraid to try something you've never tried before and just keep taking cards for the brew. The format is very deep and rewards outside-of-the-box thinking more than forcing the same deck every week.
I am about to go to sleep and wake up after MODO's downtime. It feels just like Christmas Eve right now. I already have three brews saved ready for battles tomorrow (Wednesday). I'll be playing all day trying to figure it all out, and I'll be back on Friday to tell you guys what I learned. Time to break Standard again!