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By: JustSin, Dave
Mar 02 2012 8:45am
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DKA Drafting

So release events have been going on for almost a week now and I have jumped on the opportunity.  I always find that release events are the best way for me to build my collection.  By drafting you can specifically grab cards that you want for constructed play as well as get the opportunity to take those packs and make them multiply.  When it comes to drafting I think its easier to fill out a set doing the release drafts since you're opening up three packs from the same set as well as the fact that the playing mechanics are different.  If you play in a limited event that uses a full block the mechanics change.  Each one has different aspects and as you add sets to a block it changes the interactions.  For my play style at least it becomes a better idea to focus in on a single set and how the cards interact with each other, keeping them aside from the interactions with the mechanics in another set.

Ok so now a quick confession, I'm not sure when this will go up, but I have written my Pauper article on the impact of Dark Ascension on competitive Pauper.  Hopefully when this gets put up it is still relevant, but if not, well maybe it can bring you some enjoyment any way.  It really works as filler as I try to hammer out the details on my next Pauper article, which I'm suffering a bit of a creative block with.  So maybe a change of pace like this will be good for my readers as well as myself.

Now let me explain my experience with DKA drafting so far for those wondering about whether or not I know anything.  When I play in release events I always draft in 4-3-2-2 because I like the fact that I can grab packs even from only winning one round.  I'm by no means an expert drafter and don't claim to be, but I'm a good drafter.  I'm the person who is smart enough, in draft, that I can win at least one game each draft.  When I draft I usually walk away with at least two packs because I've learned some of the most basic pitfalls that trap people.  Bypassing these mistakes allows me to win games and when it comes to DKA I've been doing well.  Based on my current finances I saved up a bit for the release and bout in the tickets to pay for three drafts.  Out of those three drafts I have been able to complete 7 drafts.  This was done through winning packs and selling money cards to pay for the ticket buy in.  Since I don't play competitive, constructed Magic I have little need for cards for play and I can sell those for the tickets I need to use my packs for drafting.  Simple enough right?


The Mechanics

So let's get started by taking a look at the mechanics we were introduced to through this set.  It is important to know these and how they all fit in order to play well within a triple draft set.  I am going to ignore the "enchant player" cards since they have zero impact upon drafting in my opinion (though I will admit that I did use Curse of Bloodletting in one draft successfully) as well as flashback since it is a mechanic that we are already familiar with.  The one thing worth noting, however, with the new flashback cards is that a lot of the ones at the higher rarity allow for doubling their effect when played from the graveyard.

Fateful Hour

This is the worst of the new mechanics and you will rarely get a use out of it.  By the time you're life is low enough for it to be a factor you're usually going to lose the game any ways.  This mechanic finds its way onto cards on the "good" side of this new world, but will not change your mind on drafting one card for another.  If you decide to draft a card with Fateful Hour then do so based on everything about that creature except this mechanic.

Morbid

Now when I first was reading about this set, I underestimated the power of the Morbid mechanic.  After playing I have to say that there should be little reservations about getting this to work.  It is surprisingly easy to get a creature to die in these games, even if that means swinging some creature into your opponent as a martyr.  Do understand that you also have to be aware of the cards using this so if your opponent makes an odd attack you know he might be trying to get that working.  It should also be noted that morbid only occurs in Green and Black.  Of the six cards that have morbid the ones to watch for are Ulvenwald Bear at 2G, Hunger of the Howlpack at G, Wakedancer at 2B, and finally Tragic Slip at B.  One nice trick that I found was the ability to use Forge Devil to kill itself and force the Morbid mechanic.

Undying

Now Undying is my favorite mechanic from this set that ensures that creatures die and come back to life stronger than ever.  One important thing to remember with this mechanic is that it only works on creatures that do not already have a +1/+1 counter on it.  This is a mechanic that is found in all colors except for white and is powerful on every creature it is found on.  The only ones I would tend to avoid would be Sightless Ghoul, which is a heavy cost and cannot block, which is one of the best places to use an undying creature.  Another great combat trick is Undying Evil, which is the only non-creature spell related to Undying and it allows you to give this mechanic to a creature at the cost of only B.  This is a great card to use, but not worth drafting more than one per deck.


The Lords and Their People
(For those who may not know, a "lord" is a creature that gives other creatures of a specific type +1/+1 or a specific ability)

Now I did want to add a quick section talking about the lords in this set since I feel they have a significant impact.  Being a smaller set it is very possible to see multiples of a lord pass by you in a draft or you may even take them for yourself.  While these aren't so strong as to be a first pick and considered a solid bomb, they can solidify the direction you head in.  I will as always say that the worst mistake you can make is to try and force yourself into colors to fit a lord.

The first thing that you need to be aware of is that there are five lords within this set.  There are four, which everyone should be immediately familiar with in Diregraf Captain, Drogskol Captain, Immerwolf, and Stromkirk Captain.  The one that you may not be so familiar with is Mikaeus, the Unhallowed.  While this creature does require a heavy commitment to black, he is worth it if you do not force the color.  In my first DKA draft I did not give much value to this card despite taking it as R1P1.  Not only does Mikaeus pump your creatures, but it gives them that Undying mechanic as well.  The only thing you have to note with him is that he only pumps non-human creatures.

Ok so looking at the more traditional lords I'm going to say that Diregraf Captain is the worst of them.  The options that are available for zombies within Dark Ascension are not as powerful as the others are.  The abilities are well and good, but I don't want to be forced into running an inferior creature like Screeching Skaab in order to up my zombie count.  One card that will benefit greatly from the Diregraf Captain would be the Havengul Runebinder, which is a beast card in itself.

Immerwolf can be one of the strongest, especially if you get a Huntmaster of the Fells.  I have seen several strong Werewolf decks that tore through competitive thanks to this combination and even ran one myself.  One of the best early game Werewolves to look for is going to be Lambholt Elder, which flips to a 4/5.  More importantly this creature allows for card draw, which is hard to find within Green and Red.  Afflicted Deserter is a good creature simply for its size, but the ability to destroy artifacts will not be a dominating one in this format (see below).

Next on our list is the vampire lord, Stromkirk Captain, which can be a great card.  Red and black are both powerful in this format, as in most limited formats, due to the fact that they have all of the best removal.  If you manage to get your hands on the legend Falkenrath Aristocrat then you're even better, but in all my drafts I have yet to see her.  Fiend of the Shadows is a bomb whether you're running vampires or not, but there is some nice depth to these creatures as well.  One that shouldn't be underestimated is Chosen of Markov, which becomes quite a troublesome creature if you have the vampires to tap.  I would not run more than two of them in a draft, but again I wouldn't want a horde of Erdwal Rippers either.

The one lord that I would love having multiple underlings for is the Drogskol Captain since all of the spirits in those colors are beasts.  Not only do these creatures all get evasion, but things like Stormbound Geist get Undying as well.  In spirits there are a lot of control options such as Niblis of the Breath, Dungeon Geists, Hollowhenge Spirit, Niblis of the Mist, and especially Niblis of the Urn.  Most of these UW spirits allow for powerful combat tricks and taping out of an opponent's nastiest of creatures.  Another great addition to Drogskol Captain is Lingering Souls, but this is being grabbed up fast in drafts.  Elgaud Inquisitor can be a nice addition as well if you're finding yourself short on spirits.


The Colors
(in no perticular order)

White
White brings in a few controlling spirits with Niblis of the Mist and Niblis of the Urn, but offers little else in the way of control (Burden of Guilt being your only option).  There are many options in the way of token generation through Gather the Townsfolk, Increasing Devotion, and Lingering Souls, but don't expect to see many Lingering Souls passed to you.  Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can be a troublesome card for your opponent in the early game, but is definitely not a bomb rare.  When it comes to the mid to late game it might as well read 2/1 for 1W with first strike.  I liked Sudden Disappearance for white, but the one time I had it in deck and it really made zero impact.  What white really brings is a few combat tricks like Break of Day, Skillful Lunge, and Faith's Shield, which can be helpful in clearing off an opponent's creatures.  At common you have a few playable creatures in Elgaud Inquisitor, Loyal Cathar, and Midnight Guard, but the humans are clearly outmatched on this plane.  The closest to a bomb rare is Requiem Angel and frankly if I'm not playing spirits then I try to avoid white.

Blue
The strongest asset of blue, as usual, is the evasion that it brings to the table.  There are a number of strong fliers and if you're playing against blue you have to be aware of Nephalia Seakite at all times.  You'll probably also see a lot of Stormbound Geist in your packs, but don't over draft it since it can only block fliers.  Blue does get a great removal spell in Griptide, which works like Chittering Rats, forcing your opponent to not only lose a creature for two turns (thanks to summoning sickness upon replay), but missing a draw as well.  Soul Seizer makes a great addition if your opponent is not playing fliers and can be forced through thanks to Artful Dodge.  Another thing that blue offers you is the serious ability to deck out your opponent.  I have had an opponent deck me out with two Shriekgeists that I could not kill and had no fliers.  Increasing Confusion adds a great decking option, especially in the late game and Thought Scour is playable even if you're not focusing on decking.  Geralf's Mindcrusher would be a beast with just Undying, but the fact that it will mill your opponent twice also makes it a strong component of this decking strategy.  The Counterspells we're given are pretty much useless, but can be used as filler.  Havengul Runebinder is a great bomb and even Tower Geist should not be underestimated.  I think this is one of the strongest colors in the format if just for evasion alone.

Black
Black becomes one if not the best colors in this format because of the simple fact that it has good removal in the form of Death's Caress.  As secondary removal we get Tragic Slip and the highly valued Farbog Boneflinger, which is creature control on a stick.  Undying Evil also provides a great combat trick in giving a creature Undying.  There is some nice token generation through Wakedancer and Reap the Seagraf as well, which can work towards creating the zombie army that Diregraf Captain can work with.  Highborn Ghoul is a fantastic grab for someone focused on black because it has evasion and even that two attack can be effective in a format with a lot of lower toughness creatures.  There tends to be a lot of useless cards thanks to the curses.  The commons really shine and Chosen of Markov should not be underestimated, but make sure you have the vampires available to be able to flip her and don't draft more than two.  Another overlooked creature is Skirsdag Flayer, which can use himself as a kill spell.  The fact that he can use multiple humans to kill an opponent's creature makes him a great grab.  Unlike the other colors, black gets a lot of use from its rares.  Things like Fiend of the Shadows, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, and Geralf's Messenger are all fantastic bombs for this format and perhaps only Increasing Ambition and Curse of Misfortunes are junk in this format.

Red
Red brings around the most kill spells in Dark Ascension, but they aren't necessarily as strong since they have those usual burn, size restrictions.  Burning Oil only does three damage and Fires of Undeath only does two.  Blood Feud and Wrack with Madness should not be played down, but I still feel this color is slightly weaker compared to black based on creature base.  Another card that should not be undervalued is Alpha Brawl, which can wipe the field.  If you can come across a rare in red then you're sitting pretty good since Mondronen Shaman, Moonveil Dragon, and any of the rare devils are going to be fantastic additions to your deck.  Heckling Fiends is a great addition, but not a card you should really run more than one of.  When it comes to the other uncommons in red I feel like Afflicted Deserter and Markov Warlord are the most common uncommons I've ever seen.

Green
Green is the most interesting color I believe because there are quite a few creatures that I value, but little else beyond creatures.  I feel like there is no way that green could ever stand on its own and it works like the Pauper deck where it forms the whole creature base, but has to be combined with another color in order to be successful.  There is a lot of good in Briarpack Alpha and Ulvenwald Bear, which can make creatures out of control and hard to deal with.  Continuing with the common cards we get Hollowhenge Beast, which is aggressively costed.  Lambholt Elder is a fantastic creature, but only after it has been transformed.  Green even feels a bit light on the combat tricks with Hunger of the Howlpack and Wild Hunger, but combined with the Briarpack Alpha and Ulvenwald Bear it can be a great creature base.  Combining this with the removal of red or black is the ideal way to run green.  Another great common to look for is Kessig Recluse, but it will be grabbed up fast thanks to its deathtouch ability.  The stronger creatures of green are great, but are forced heavily into green such as Strangleroot Geist, Predator Ooze, and even Vorapede.

I won't really get into the colorless spells here because I feel there really isn't anything great that artifacts have to offer this set.  The only one I ever actually reach for is the Warden of the Wall.


Other Thoughts

  When it comes to artifact removal such as Afflicted Deserter and Torch Fiend you don't really need to draft these to deal with artifacts.  If you want them for their being a creature or a sideboard option that's fine, but it is not necessary to make sure you have artifact hate.  We just came off a set that was very heavy on artifacts and interactions with them, so of course Wizards made sure that new sets were less reliant.  This is no exception.  There are very few useful artifacts in this format outside of Warden of the Wall, which is a great card.  There are some troublesome artifacts, but the only one I would run would be Avacyn's Collar and even then its a one-of.  Cards like Wolfhunter's Quiver should only be run as sideboard options if you encounter an opponent with a heavy Werewolf creature base.

  Don't underestimate Ghoultree if for the simple fact that he's a 10/10 creature.  Most times you'll find that he can come into play for less than 8 and even that was cheap for a 10/10 creature.  It does suck not having trample, but your opponent is going to have to block it.  I only add this point because I've been passed them in a couple drafts a bit late and used them to my advantage.

  Grafdigger's Cage is actually a playable card in this format, but don't play it main deck.  I did make the mistake in the game you'll see below in forgetting that the Grafdigger's Cage stops Undying since the creatures cannot be played from grave.  This also stops all of those pesky flashback cards as well, but since most decks you'll play aren't totally focused on these mechanics, it's not worth a slot in the main deck.

  Know that there are only six removal spells (not counting Fling) in this format.  Of those one is blue, two are black, and the remaining three are all red.  The red spells are some of the most powerful because Fires of Undeath as well as Burning Oil have flashback, but the most powerful is Death's Caress.  This should be taken in early packs over even the uncommon, red removal since it can kill anything.  Tragic Slip is the other black removal and can be great, but don't overvalue it.  Grab maybe two if you can't find any other removal, but there will usually be plenty to go around and it won't always be hitting that Morbid ability.

  When running Blood Feud don't forget that you can use this to target any creatures.  In other words, it is most beneficial if you can make two of your opponent's creatures fight in order to kill both.

  If you're playing red and come to the mid to late in the draft and get passed a late Hellrider... don't pass it.  Some of you may say duh, but I had a stupid moment and did this.  Don't pull a me.

  (Thranben Heretic) is a great card beyond the fact that is perfectly costed for a 2/2.  The ability to remove creatures from your opponent's graveyard will slow down creatures like Headless Skaab, which require the extra payment in order to play.  The other thing you should not forget is that this counters the Undying mechanic.  When a creature with Undying goes to the grave the Undying mechanic is triggered and put on the stack.  In response you can use the Heretic to remove that creature and thus preventing it from being reborn.

  Morbid can be forced though things like the self-kill of Forge Devil.

  Alpha Brawl is basically a Wrath of God... or at least the closest thing this format has to offer.  Don't let its high casting cost throw you off it.


Example Draft

So here's an example draft that I did that was hands down my favorite of the ones I've drafted so far thanks to so much evasion.  Now I did not record as I drafted, instead opting for a quick video looking at what the deck looked like afterwards, sorry I know this will be disappointing for some, but I explain why that is in the first video.  However, for enjoyments sake I do hope those who are disappointed watch it any ways!


Well I know I'm not the foremost export on the ways of limited play, but I'm hoping that I was able to provide some insight into the ways of the triple Dark Ascension draft.  Once I get my wits together and stop having fun with these drafts I'll get back to my look at casual Pauper, but hopefully this will keep you all amused until then!

- JustSin