The last article I wanted to write was for Dimir week, but that slipped by without me finding time, and instead of using the immediately following Orzhov week as a good excuse to pay my dues and make up for it, I stayed in the very Dimir-esque mode of completely disappearing, and I've been frighteningly good at keeping at that. Until now.
I couldn't resist the bait that was the prerelease of Dragon's Maze. Planning to attend two prereleases (a midnight one and one on Sunday), I figured I could wait to try my own guild, Selesnya, until the second one, so I went with Golgari at the (large) midnight prerelease. I was hoping to pair up with Simic and get a couple of Korozda Gorgons out of my DGM packs to really dominate the battlefield. While I did get Simic as my ally, though, it added minimally to my pool as Blue was very weak generally, not even allowing me to reasonably play my (Simic Manipulator) due to color restrictions. My Golgari pack had a decent but unexciting rare in Jarad's Orders, but a great uncommon in (Dreg Mangler) and some quality commons such as Sluiceway Scorpion. My DGM packs seemed to suggest that White was going to be my best third color, though I will admit I did put a little Blue in there too for (Give//Take) and a Drakewing Krasis. I had a solid, slow-ish aggressive deck with two Battering Krasis and a Crocanura and plenty of ways to get them large, such as two (Armored Wolf Rider) - a surprisingly good card, if unexciting. A little removal, an (Unflinching Courage), a Rot Farm Skeleton and Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts was my way to get through board stalls. I obviously didn't play Emmara Tandris because Hexplate Golem is just not worth it in most limited decks.
I ended up going 5-2, losing to an aggressive Boros-Rakdos deck that started both games with a turn one Boros Elite against my slower draws. That deck ultimately ended below me in standings because of its inconsistence, but that didn't really comfort me after getting nut-drawn twice in a row. I also lost quite a nail biter against an Esper-colored deck that had lots of removal for a couple of creature-light hands I had to keep. On the other hand, I beat a deck that got out (Obzedat, Ghost Council) in all three games and correctly read an opponent as having Aurelia, the Warleader in hand, making me save a Launch Party to deal with it the turn it came down instead of dying. I was quite pleased with my efforts, but the prerelease format strikes me as very weird; four packs of DGM is definitely too much; I've heard of people having 10+ Cluestones in their pools.
For my second prerelease, I was judging in addition to playing since I know the TO, and as there were too many people who wanted Selesnya, I agreed to wait with my pick until everyone else had what they wanted despite having preregistered and being guaranteed Selesnya if I wanted. Since only one other person picked Dimir, I figured it was a great opportunity to usurp the balance and go with some Blue-Black action. These are the two rares I ended up playing in my deck (which had a hint of White from my Azorius ally and Green for two removal spells, Putrefy and (Krasis Incubation)):
I was aware that my deck might be more fun than actually good, but I actually didn't think it was as bad as most people who saw it. I lost a match early on to a Gruul/Rakdos deck which was just too aggressive, having both Desecration Demon and (Skarrg Ragebeast) which made short work of my pesky 2/2 fliers and 0/5 and 0/6 walls. But in the final round, I still ended up at Table 1 against the only undefeated, having won my pair-up the previous round. I ended up winning a truly awesome match on the last turn of over-time due to my opponent being unable to draw a card because of my Crosstown Courier diligently running past his unleashed Rakdos brutes to "get to the bottom of things" just in time. I got second on breakers, which was great, and most importantly, I had a ton of fun playing a really odd deck. I also got some boosters as prizes, which obviously meant...
Dragon's Maze drafting!
My first Dragon's Maze draft was in a nine-player pod just after the second prerelease. I opened a pack with a few good options, none as exciting to me as (Turn//Burn), which I think is one of the best cards in the set, at least barring the rare slot. After following that up with an unexciting pick, I was passed (Unfliching Courage) third and moved in on it. That card is ridiculous and please don't let it go third. I got some good fixing and some decent Green cards, a White and a Blue Gatekeeper, and a Jelenn Sphinx. I was looking at some kind of Bant-deck, possibly splashing Red, at the end of pack one. In pack two, I got a lot of exciting stuff including a Master Biomancer, a (Sunhome Guildmage), a Firemane Avenger, a Greenside Watcher and a late Dinrova Horror which had me considering five colors. In pack three, I opened an Angel of Serenity and the Green-White signal from pack one was not a fluke as I had to choose between Deadbridge Goliath and Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage in pack three. Looking at a mainly green deck, I figured the consistent performance and the faster clock that the four-drop provided would be better. In the next pack, there was another foil Deadbridge Goliath. My deck was so ridiculous that I decided to cut a basically free splash of the Dinrova Horror. This is what I went with in the end:
In case you can't tell, this deck is insane. We played four rounds and I easily won three of them, only losing the last one to a deck with ramp, populate, and an Armada Wurm that he drew in two of our three games. I played against the best of the other players in the draft for fun in between rounds and he went, "okay, I'll go to 57" when I swung for lethal. I laughed and let him have 60 extra life. He scooped two turns later any way. The deck was ridiculous and very fun piloting.
The next day (Monday, that is), I did an 8-man draft with my local playgroup. I opened up on a fairly unexciting pack and ended up taking Fluxcharger, which is a really solid card in my opinion. I went really deep into Izzet with three Nivix Cyclops in pack one to follow the Fluxcharger. I also got two Punish The Enemy to go with it and a great incentive to splash blue in two (Far//Away), another really powerful split card. Pack two didn't have much for me except a late Call of the Nightwing, a Last Thoughts and a Metropolis Sprite, apart from the awkwardly green Clan Defiance I had to take second-pick. My deck was looking very defensive on the ground and cards like (Firemind Infantry) looked a lot less exciting than they normally do - having Dimir as your only guild in pack two with another person in Black next to you was definitely a hit. In pack three, things were also looking grim but I got hooked up late with a couple of Goblin Electromancers which really shone in my deck, as well as a very late Teleportal and an Explosive Impact. My deck clearly wasn't as good as the former one, but I quite liked the look of it:
I won my first round against a Simic-BUG-like deck that stumbled a little on its bad mana, and the second round against a Boros deck that almost got back into the game with a Boros Reckoner and a (Boros Battleshaper), but ultimately was a little split between its aggressive nature and some large dinosaurs. My one-for-one removal was also very efficient against the plethora of auras my opponent ran. I ended up losing the finals to a very solid Orzhov control deck which only splashed a little Blue for a Supreme Verdict which I lost by playing around in one game and lost to when it was cast in the other game.
I feel like I've learned several important things for getting into the full block draft format already, so let me just start rattling them off and we will see as the format develops how many of them are sound advice and how many remain so as we all get our hands on the format. The first lesson is that it is still viable to play two colors (or two colors with a light splash). These decks might be a little less powerful on average, but getting into the right underdrafted guild will give you an extremely consistent mana-base and if you do have a bomb (such as Supreme Verdict) you need to splash, there is plenty of fixing to be had. You need to keep this in mind even if you are drafting the five-color monstrosity. There will still be Boros and Rakdos decks out there, and they will be able to play their aggressive two-drops, and they will be after you.
Second, and this is extremely important especially if you do not want to be one of the people trying for the two-color deck, fixing is important. Dragon's Maze has most of the fixing you want and need, and while there are exciting and powerful cards in the set, you should probably be taking both Gates and Cluestones a little earlier than you currently are. As it stands right now, it is my impression that you might have to first-pick a Gate in some of your drafts and you shouldn't count on cluestones tabling. This might not always be entirely accurate, but I think it gives you a great impression of when to take fixing.
Third, The cycle of common two-colored cards in DGM are (almost) all very good, Morgue Burst and (Drown in Flith) possibly being the only exceptions, though I'm not even sure of that. Beetleform Mage is a (Darkthicket Wolf) on drugs, no matter how poorly it seems to go with Evolve, (Tithe Drinker) is a very powerful tool in an aggressive Orzhov deck or in a slower, controlling one, (Armored Wolf Rider) is one hell of a roadblock - and he attacks very well, too. While I haven't played it yet, I am very excited to run a deck with multiple Deputy of Acquittals, and Viashino Firstblade scares me like few other cards. Pilfered Plans is a Divination with upside, which is nice, and I've already had the kick of making Nivix Cyclops work. Zhur-Taa Druid is a great 2-drop ramp in a format with barely any of the kind. Dragon's Maze rewards you if you can play these cards early and consistently.
(pic=Armored Wolf Rider)
Next up, Almost all of the uncommon split cards are good. Cards like (Turn//Burn), (Profit//Loss), (Give//Take) and (Far//Away) are obviously powerful, but even (Alive//Well) and (Armed//Dangerous) are fine cards, and most of them are fine even if you can only play one side reliably (or at all). They're also more likely to make your deck than most other cards because of the light color requirement.
Finally, It's worth buying into the Gatekeepers shtick if available. All of the gatekeepers (including the red and green ones, perhaps a surprise to some) are very good if you can enable them and perfectly serviceable otherwise. They go well with evolving creatures, they stymie most aggressive decks well, they're easy to splash, especially if you are playing a lot of gates, and at least three of them (W, U and B) are worth it. I've run decks with two gatekeepers, and with just four gates in your deck, they seem to be "online" a decent amount of the time. I'd love to try and get more of both them and gates and I'll be sure to try for it once DGM goes online.
So far, this format has only excited me to draft even more, which is no big surprise. I feel like the set adds a lot to what is essentially a brand new format with a ton of cards and complex interactions, and that very much is what I enjoy about a draft format; an ability to direct your draft in a lot of different directions (something which GTC and RTR were a little less than optimal for) and still do well if you're intelligent and know what you're doing. I think the format will have great longevity and I can't wait to experiment more in the upcoming drafts. I hope you, too, are excited, and that you feel more ready for the upcoming drafts after reading this. I'd love to hear comments with your own draft experiences and what you think I've got right or horribly wrong.
And I hope I'll be back soon again this time around. Until then, happy drafting!
-Marcus / @Lobster667 on Twitter.