A while ago I wrote an overview article on drafting Mercadian Masques. I somehow like drafting Masques, but I prefer Mirage Visions Weatherlight any time. It is surely for the better, that we get the chance to draft Mirage block only about once a year, because in many ways the format is quite primitive. This shouldn't come as a surprise as the idea of drafting Magic cards was a new one still when Mirage came out. Actually if you sit down to draft Mirage online, you might play against opponents that are not as old as the cards you are drafting.
When I made my Masques Block draft overview article I could keep that quite short, because you are drafting the same booster three times. That is a uniquely weird experience as a Mercadian Masques block booster might have any of 220 different commons, but it still means that all colors are the same regardless of which booster it is. In a draft environment with three different boosters that is naturally not the case. So while I'd like to keep the structure of this article similar to the Masques article, it will not be the same. Instead I will cover the colors first, grouping cards by pack, and then sum it up with an overview about the strengths and weaknesses of the different packs.
Many of the things I wrote for Masques apply here as well, some of them even more strongly. For example if you open a modern booster like Theros you expect to see 10-14 playable cards in that booster. That gives you room to maneuver while choosing your colors and in the end you will still end up with 23 playable cards and even a few sideboard cards. Mirage is very different from that. In old sets the boosters don't necessarily have even eight playable cards. Thus you will rarely table a playable card, and you will end up with only 22-25 cards even if you don't waste any picks. This leads to the weird situation that you can neither really afford to discard your early draft picks nor can you afford to be in the wrong colors. Signal reading is thus of paramount importance in old sets. If you are not good at that, drafting becomes much more of a lottery.
The second thing that is very different from modern draft environments is the progression of the power level in the packs. In Mirage you might first pick a common of filthy power, a common that would probably be the best uncommon in many other sets. However, beyond the filthy commons and a bunch of --by today's standards-- absurdly efficient removal, the cards and especially the creatures quickly become very mediocre. Beyond the mediocre cards the cards don't get narrower and a bit overpriced like Culling Mark. Instead you are approaching Chimney Imp territory, actual unplayables.
As to the creature/spell balance, in the past creatures were generally weaker and spells stronger. The trend of making creatures stronger comes from this "imbalance" being considered unhealthy for the game. You can still see Magic mostly as it was in Mirage. The two filthy cards, Kaervek's Torch and Ray of Command are both spells, and the next best commons are mostly removal spells like Pacifism, Dark Banishing, and Incinerate. Creatures on the other hand are mostly mediocre. You can expect the average Mirage block creature to be either a 2/2 ground creature for 3 with some kind of bonus, or a 2/2 flyer for four, again with some kind of bonus. Not all creatures are like that, but a surprisingly high proportion of creature falls exactly into that pattern. Thus if you see something that compares favorably to those stats, it is probably a good card.
Now in the things I said so far Mirage is very similar to Masques. However, there is one thing were Mirage is very different, that is mana flood. In Masques you have Spellshapers, basically the best flood protection around. In Mirage you have nothing. I mean it, flooding is the easiest way to lose games in Mirage draft. If you see something that mitigates your flood potential pick it unless the alternative is one of the filthy cards or really essential for your deck.
This is mostly a review of the rules of the different mechanics, so you might want to skip this section if you are familiar with the Mirage keywords. Nevertheless I will try to go at least a bit into the significance of the ability.
Flanking is simple mechanic. It means that when a creature with flanking is blocked, all creatures without flanking, that block that creature, get -1/-1. This keyword appears on many cards throughout the block, and while it doesn't look like much it has a big impact on how creature combat plays out in the block, and consequently the evaluation of other creatures. I mentioned, that Mirage block has a lot of Gray Ogre type creatures. Actually most of these Gray Ogres have flanking. This has the profound effect, that although 3/3 creatures should be king in the land of 2/2s, they really aren't. On offense a 3/3 gets double blocked by a pair of 2/2, and on defense that same 3/3 only trades against all those 2/2 flanking creatures. Dominating stats thus start at 3/4 in Mirage block.
Phasing is one of the weirdest mechanics ever. It basically makes your cards available only every second turn. Ruleswise that works by making the cards with phasing move from play to a designated phasing area at the start of your turn. Simultaneously all cards with phasing that previously were in the phasing zone return to play. This comes with a lot of rules baggage, because phasing doesn't work like Oblivion Ring. The card doesn't really leave, auras and counters stay on the card, enter and leave the battlefield abilities don't trigger, and the cards returns to play without summoning sickness.
Phasing doesn't have a pervasive effect like flanking. It is mainly confusing. However, the main confusion comes not from the actual gameplay, but from trying to evaluate these cards. How good are Teferi's Drake and Breezekeeper? On offense we can compare Breezekeeper to Azure Drake. Breezkeeper gives you the same clock although slightly delayed, is easier to chumpblock, but harder to dominate. On defense phasing is weird, and probably just not that good.
An interesting question with phasing is, if you want to synchronize your phasing creature or if you want one to phase in when the other one phases out. I cannot give an all-encompassing answer here, but generally I think you want to have at least one of the phasing creatures around if you can. If you are on offense it is not that important when you attack, but you might have a small advantage from synchronizing your phasing creatures. On defense however, synchronizing means, that every second turn you will have your guard way down.
Banding is not really a Mirage specific keyword, yet Mirage is the only draftable set that makes use of this keyword. (not counting Masters Editions) This keyword is always portrayed as a rules monster, but it is not as bad as it is made to be. Simply put a banding creature can be designated to fight alongside another creature with the effects that you probably might assume this will have. On offense you can choose for a creature with banding to band with any other attacking creature. You can also choose two or more creatures with banding to band with the same creature. If you do that the designated creatures will attack in tandem. Regardless of the number of creatures in the band, the band will than be blocked as if it were one creature. If your opponent could normally block one creature in the band, he can block the entire band with just one creature. Of course he can also multiblock the band if he wants to. When it comes to the assignment of damage, the attacker decides how to distribute the damage, and he actually has free reign to distribute the damage. The defender will have to order the attacking creatures, but this doesn't have any significance. The attacker can really distribute the damage as he desires.
On defense there is no such thing as banding, at least the rules describe it that way, but it has an effect anyway. If the defender multiblocks an attacking creature, and one of the creatures in the multiblock has banding, then the defender can distribute combat damage. Again he has complete freedom here. The blocking creatures will be ordered by the attacker, but if you choose to assign no damage to the first creature, and all damage to the second creature instead, that is fine.
This is a long section for just four cards... Anyway, banding is way better than it appears to be at first glance. It is actually very tough to attack into a board with a banding creature on the other side. On offense banding is still good because it means, that a banding creature will always do something as long as you have any other creature that can attack. The banding creature can just stick to that one and attack as well. Benalish Infantry might look dorky, but it is at least a decent card.
This is not a fixed picking order, but it should be about right. You can see the general trend as I described it above. After the first five cards there is already a significant drop in quality and card number eight is not something you are craving to have in your deck. Pacifism is clearly the number one here, and the flankers and flyers are more or less interchangeable in their power level. I think the flyers are more important, though, as there are a bunch of creatures comparable to Zhalfirin and Femeref Knight in Visions and Weatherlight, but you only get 1/1 flyers there.
White is really weak in Visions. Knight of Valor is a good card, but Jamuraan Lion is decidedly not exciting. Infantry Veteran and Sun Clasp are decent, but no cards you want more than one or two of. On the other hand white is quite deep here. Righteous Aura is the worst card and basically unplayable, but I can see Warrior's Honor being a 23rd card; not a good one, but at least a card that does something on occasion.
Weatherlight is where white shines. Heavy Ballista is straightforward and just one of the five best commons in the block. Empyrial Armor is powerful, too, it but has a much higher variance. The armor has the obvious weakness of making yourself susceptible to two-for-ones. Yet despite the powerful removal of the old times the risk is not as bad. Pacifism, Man-O'-War and Dark Banishing break your neck, but there is not much other bounce around, and the rest of the removal doesn't work too well against big guys. On the other hand there is the very real chance that your opponent is in for chumpblocking after just two attacks with the armored creature. Benalish Knight is okay, but don't expect too much from his ambush mode. Ardent Militia stalls the ground very effectively, and that is good enough to make it one of the better commons around.
White has not only powerful commons in Weatherlight it is also deep. From the remaining cards only Angelic Renewal and Kithkin Armor are bad, and even these make for tolerable 23rd card.
Compared to white blue is quite deep in Mirage. There is one card that stands out, though. Ray of Command is one of the most powerful commons in all of Mirage block. It suffers somewhat from the Divine Verdict problem. If you leave four mana open early in the game, your opponent will most likely see it coming. It is also not always possible to kill your opponent's best creature with Ray of Command, but in the end you still get an almost guaranteed two for one, that is also flexible and hard to play around.
Most of the other cards are still pretty powerful. Thirst is removal. Dream Cache is one of the best cards at mitigating flood issues. Dream Fighter and Power Sink are pseudo removal. Azimaet Drake was one of the best commons in Masques as Drake Hatchling. It is a worse here, as it doesn't dominate all those flanking knights, but it is still a good card. Teferi's Drake is the first card that you are not excited to have in your deck, and there are a bunch of cards of similar power like Merfolk Seer or Kukemessa Serpent.
In Visions the top commons are closer to each other in power level. I can see myself picking either of the top three commons depending on my curve, and other needs. Man-O'-War is an awkward card, potentially very powerful, but Mirage block is not a format, where tempo advantages are easily exploited. However, if you get a pair of Man-O'-War and Undo you can put your opponent very far behind.
As in Mirage, blue is deep here. You are probably not excited to play the cards beyond the top five or so, but it doesn't really hurt to have Impulse or Inspiration in the deck, and only Vision Charm is really unplayable.
Weatherlight is where the blue mage has to pay for two deep packs with powerful cards. Ophidian is okay, but actually hard to abuse. He plays well with Man-O'-War and Undo, but one or two extra cards off an otherwise unexciting creature won't win you the game necessarily. The rest of the cards range from pretty bad to outright terrible. Fog Elemental does its job as pseudo removal. Phantom Wings and Mana Chains are already cards that you would rather not play, and beyond that it gets embarrassing.
Black is deep and powerful in Mirage. Dark Banishing and Enfeeblement speak for themselves. Cadaverous Knight is arguably the most powerful creature amongst the Mirage commons. It has good stats and is very hard to kill. Bone Harvest is one of the cards that protect you from flooding, and it is one of the cards which lead to interesting decisions. In most cases it is not trivial which cards you want to draw again except for the one or two most powerful creatures in your yard. This is a card that you really would like to see, but if you have one you will pass the second one along. Beyond that comes a long list of unexciting, solid creatures, that extends well beyond the top eight here.
Visions has a few bummers here like Death Watch and Dark Privilege, but most of the rest is solid, even excellent. Infernal Harvest is the sleeper card of the block. You often get it late, but it is a veritable first pick. Most of the time it's a two or three-for-one at the laughable price of two mana. Returning a couple of lands sounds bad, but if you don't cast the Harvest in the developmental stage of the game that almost doesn't hurt at all. Races being rare in this format of 2/2 creatures, you get beyond the developmental stage in most games.
Crypt Rats is a mass removal in the common slot. Playing mass removal in Limited is always a bit weird, because you cannot really afford to stall your own development and these cards will always hurt you, too. On the other hand these kinds of cards are exactly the opposite of a win more card. Having access to a stop losing card can be quite valuable, although you will never catch an intelligent opponent off guard with the common sweeper. After that there are still a couple of decent creatures for you to take.
Shattered Crypt is Weatherlight's equivalent to Bone Harvest. In most situations Shattered Crypt is the superior card, but again you still don't want multiples of this. In the end you should have at least one Harvest or Crypt in your deck, preferably a Shattered Crypt.
The other cards are pretty much self-explanatory. Shadow Rider is one of the best common creatures in the block and Spinning Darkness is a solid removal. Barrow Ghoul is a bit of a trap card. The stats are convincing, yet the card is not good. There are just too many good cards in black that consume your graveyard, and the other colors like to get their share as well. So pick the ghoul late if you are sure, that you can't use of the cards in your graveyard more profitably.
Red has a big share of the top Mirage commons, including the best common in the set, Kaervek's Torch. The torch might look like a weaker version of Fireball, but that doesn't do it justice. Fireball has been around a few times in the last ten years or so, and it has always been in sets that had at least some tempo. Mirage, however, has just very few tempo. Trading a few blows and then burning them into oblivion is a real thing in Mirage draft.
Incinerate is the no-strings attached removal spell that you know. It might even be better in Mirage as there are just very few creatures that don't die to a timely Incinerate. The next cards are some of the best creatures in the block, including Ekundu Cyclops with its magical stats of ground domination. After the top seven commons there is a drop towards the next commons, but there is still a bunch of playables amongst the rest. Unfortunately red has a lot of Stone Rain caliber cards, too.
Rock Slide is another extremely powerful common in the hands of the red mage. It is a bit tough to employ it on defense as the opponent should see it coming, but if you are on offense they will not have much room to play around it. Fireblast is overcosted, and not remotely as good here as in Constructed, but it still does four, and that is good enough to kill virtually all creatures. Lancer is the decent aggressive creature it appears to be. And Talruum Champion pretends to be a humble 3/3, the stats that we normally to want to pay 5 for, but with his super-first strike he is good enough to dominate most other ground creatures. Beyond that red only gets two half-decent three drops and the rest should rather not make it into your deck.
Red in Weatherlight is not exciting, but compared to white and green it is still doing okay. Fire Whip is good as you can usually play it in a way, that doesn't set up a two for one for them. Afterwards the whip is quite menacing. The other commons quickly gravitate towards trash. Sawtooth Ogre and Bogardan Firefiend are decent. Bloodrock Cyclops typically backfires if you are not super-aggressive. And all other cards are sideboard material at best.
It's not easy being green, and especially so if everybody else gets the nuts and top notch removal, and all you get are some creatures that are slightly above the curve at best. There is not much more to see here, but one thing should not be missed. Village Elder is my pick for sleeper common of the block #2. Sure, it doesn't look like much, but in a format where a lot of games are decided by late game floods, Village Elder lets you do something productive with your spare lands.
Green has not many good cards in Visions either, but at least the top two creatures are actually good. The remaining cards are all somewhat playable, so we cannot really say, that green is shallow here. On the other hand there are not many cards you will be actively looking for.
If you thought after two underwhelming packs it would get better in the third, then you are wrong. It actually gets worse. Redwood Treefolk is the man as long as the action is on the ground, and Uktabi Efreet can often force a double block, but both cards are not adding a lot to green. From there it is only downhill, and quickly too.
Uncommons and Rares
Just as every other block Mirage has its share of bomb uncommons and rares. Most of these you will probably be able to spot yourself, but I want to give you an overview over the best cards nevertheless.
Surprised? This is what good uncommons in Mirage look like; not all that impressive, but still pretty good compared to most of the commons. Let's take a look at the rares.
That's the good stuff. Completely unimpressive compared to today's standards, but most of these cards can win the game on their own. The very best of the best are the cards that aren't creatures, because almost everybody has good creature removal, but most opponents are just cold to Sacred Mesa and Hammer of Bogardan. These are the two most powerful cards in the block in my opinion.
Necrosavant is the strongest card in Visions. Of the uncommons Nekrataal and Waterspout Djinn are the best you can hope for. Dragon Mask might not look that good, but it is one of the necessary flood protection cards. Of course it does nothing on your starting hand, but it is pretty good at winning long games.
Weatherlight has a tendency to look bad when placed next to Mirage and Visions. The nonwhite commons are worse than the rest of the block, and as we see here the uncommons and rares all are more weird than powerful. The fiscal value of Weatherlight is also not that impressive, but that's for the next section.
As always Pete does some evaluation of the money cards in State of the Program.
Crypt Rats is the only common going for more than $4 and thus pays for a pack. The remaining cards above all pay for an entire draft. Notable amongst these are Lion's Eye Diamond, because that is the jackpot, the most valuable card on Magic Online right now at about $120. Enlightened Tutor is the premier uncommon of the block at $20.
You should familiarize yourself with the mechanics in Mirage block first. Flanking is simple, but Banding and Phasing are weird. Cards with those abilities are hard to evaluate, even when you know what they do.
The relative strength of the colors in Mirage is usually like this
Red > Black > Blue > White > Green
Black > Blue > Red > Green > White
and in Weatherlight
White > Black > Red > Green > Blue
What does that mean? Everybody wants to be black. On the other end of the spectrum green should usually be avoided. Red can be very good, but you will see that right away. Either the goodies come early in Mirage, or you should move somewhere else. White on the other hand is not that strong in Mirage, but if you have a hunch that it is open, the rewards can be amazing as the Weatherlight pack is very strong. Blue is the color that lends itself best to cutting. It's not that Visions is promising incredible reward, but in Mirage there are not that many cards that are perceived as signals and most of the good cards come from Visions, so there is some incentive to that strategy. However, you should not expect to add much blue to your deck after the first two packs.
Strategically all colors got a bit of everything. Few colors reward dedication to an aggressive or controlling approach. Red is most likely to be rewarded from playing aggressive and black is most likely to be rewarded from playing control.
And that's it for Mirage block retro drafts. I hope you enjoyed my take on drafting this format, and could take something away to improve your chances on breaking even beyond hoping for the Lion's Eye.