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By: stsung, Jaroslava Stefankova
Aug 29 2018 12:00pm
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Khans of Tarkir

Some time ago I started writing about Khans of Tarkir because I knew it would come back to Magic Online one day since we get to draft favorite sets this year and triple Khans is one of them. I wasn't entirely sure when that would happen until recently when it was announced. During August 29–September 5 we will be able to draft Triple Khans of Tarkir which is probably 'one of the greatest Draft formats of recent years'. This means that some players who never played with the set will go look for Khans of Tarkir content from the past. That content is written before the actual set is available and often doesn't manage to grasp the format well in context. I always wondered if someone writes limited set review after the set actually comes out to comment on how different the format actually is. Recently, our LGS made a Khans of Tarkir 'retrodraft' as we used to say before Flashback drafts became a thing on Magic Online. I made sure to be present. I was looking just to draft this set and play with it but the whole experience was worth way more because I experienced something new - meeting real life players that played Khans of Tarkir for the first time with the knowledge from articles of professional players. When interacting with them a bit I learned that my notion of the format is very different and this was clear from questions regarding certain cards - Archers' Parapet (How many of these is too many?) and Hordeling Outburst (I can't play it on turn 3. You think I should still play it?).

This was a game of LIMITED!

Instead of writing a classic limited set overview (since many other people did that already) I'd like to bring something that can help people understand the format.

Khans of Tarkir is or was considered a slow format. It is a bit complicated because there are fast decks in the format and also there is a big speed-changer in the format - Morph cards (I'll talk about it later). One of the questions many players ask is 'How many lands should I run?'. The base line for this format is pretty much 18 land no matter what kind of deck you run and it's not just because of mana fixing. If you are running good Morphs you want to play them on turn 3 and turn them face up on turn 5 and that is something you can hardly do with 17 lands. Since this set rewards you for playing 3-color decks you should also pick mana fixing relatively high. The amount of mana fixing (trilands and refuges) should be 3. Note that Banners are hardly good for fixing, you really need the free slot (a land) for fixing.

Morph and speed

Our paper Flashback draft pod consisted of several players that had no prior experience with the set. Their knowledge of the set came from articles written by pro players. They came to play a format the players tried to assess in theory not knowing how the set actually played out in practice. This was a valuable lesson for me because I normally ignore these kind of articles and usually come unprepared to prerelease events. This often led me to think that I'm the one who is behind and gets crushed by something everyone already knows. This was partly true but I had one advantage over the players at Khans prerelease. I was right about Morph in the format right from the beginning while others were trying to figure out how good Morph cards are (it may also have something to do with the fact that I already played Magic when Morph was introduced - in a time where it was very difficult to stop them). The thing is, each format has something that we usually refer to 'speed' or 'tempo' (this applies to constructed as well). While we may not have a real definition of it we can most probably agree that Avacyn Restored or Ixalan (or Tempest) were very fast formats and that Rise of the Eldrazi or Dominaria (or Mercadian Masques) are rather slow. When a format is slow we know that we don't need to focus on surviving that much and we can pick cards that will impact the game later. A fast format revolves around two-drops and cheap removal, while in slower formats we can dedicate early turns to setting up our board or ramp.

ROE was so slow that getting to 8 mana to use Invokers was pretty common.

When one of my opponents died to my army of 4/2 creatures while trying to land his 6 and 7 drops he mentioned that everyone claimed the format to be slow and that is when I realized that maybe we should clarify why this format is slow or somehow define speed (I was usually playing fast decks in Khans) or simply put it in context. When he said this I wanted to say that it is true, but then I also realized my expectations about our pod was something like 3 Mardu decks, 1-2 Jeskai decks, 1-2 Abzan/Sultai Midrange, 1-2 4-5c deck, me (GR Savage Punch). That didn't suggest what we know as a 'slow' format. Let's say it is a bit complicated when it comes to KTK. Morph, a supposedly slow mechanic, is actually something that makes the format faster (there are many powerful early turn plays but I have the feeling that all are there in order to oppose Morph cards).

There are very powerful cards with Morph. Many of the common and relevant ones have a Morph cost of cmc 5, the cards though are being usually cast on turn 3 and 4 for 3 mana face down. Since there isn't enough of removal in limited to be able to deal with every single Morph there comes the need to play something that can in theory stop the Morphs. What card that makes sense and we want to play it is there? The answer is actually pretty simple, a creature. In this case, a cheap creature with power 2 or higher so it can trade with a 2/2 Morph. This fact already makes midrange players lower their curve and this also is a reason to go under with fast decks.

Being able to get a colorless 2/2 creature for 3 generic mana is also a huge when you are playing a multicolored deck. How often have you ended up losing a game because you couldn't find the color you needed and would have won if you could just cast this random 2/2? Morphs help players to curve out well even if they can't put together the colors they need as fast as they'd like. Thanks to this the overall speed of the format is faster because no one needs to get stuck, not being able to cast anything. Turns 2,3 and 4 are important in this format.

Another thing to note is that turning a Morph face up is also something that impacts the board right away and can lead to serious blowouts (depending where you sit). Turning over a Efreet Weaponmaster during combat can have an huge impact on the board. Snowhorn Rider trampling through a 2/1 creature can be also devastating. Turning a Morph face up also helps us curve out better since we can have a 3-drop and 5-drop in one card.

When you will be playing Khans of Tarkir limited you will have to respect Morphs and also be proactive when it comes to turning them face up. Sitting around and waiting usually leads to another player developing their board state. Sometimes getting hit by a very powerful Morph is worth doing something! I'd give an example from Vintage. Ever faced an opponent who played Time Vault and didn't have the means to untap it? Well, the said player can choose to untap the Time Vault and skip their turn in order to get two devastating turns later in the game. In order to prevent that one needs to become proactive, do something, don't give your opponent the chance to skip the turn and kill you on their additional turn (at one point this situation was happening in Standard - Magosi, the Waterveil).

Now that we talked about Morph we can look at the archetypes. We have aggressive decks that are mostly in Mardu colors, a little slower decks like Jeskai tempo, midrange decks of all kinds and in all colors but mostly Abzan or Sultai based and even control decks usually in Sultai colors. KTK is a powerful format but the games go long. It is not uncommon that a 6-drop or a 7-drop wins the game. Any deck needs to be ready for the early game. Any deck that is fast and aggressive also needs to have means how to win from a stalled board. Dealing the first 14 damage may seem to be relatively easy but dealing the remaining 6 can become tricky. You need to understand that this will be happening most of the time and for that you need to prepare for it - this makes Khans of Tarkir seem to be a 'slow' format since the game is often decided later, on turn 10 on average.


Archetypes in Khans of Tarkir are unsurprisingly the clan colors. We had Abzan in the lead which was the most played clan with also the highest win percentage, but it was followed by 4 color and 5 colored decks and then the remaining clans. In most cases one wants to be playing a three color deck but running two color decks or even mono red can be a viable strategy. These decks can be faster and go under the three color decks. The most common two color decks were green-red (Savage Punch) or white-black aggro (Warriors). Rarely we could see the low to the ground mono red deck.

The rares in the set are mostly in all the clan colors which will very easily send you in them and that's fine. Being (at least) three-color in this format is a standard. Drafting a two color deck is something that you can do but it has to be open - other players will want the cards for their 3-color decks! Three color decks though have to be picking mana fixing high which can mean you can get hands on the more aggressive cards at that moment. Here's a list of KTK archetypes.

Abzan is mostly midrange and the decks usually work with counters. The best pick is Armament Corps which for 5 mana can bring way too much value for the opponent to handle. Abzan's signature ability is Outlast which will allow to gain advantage in later game when either player can't get damage through. Some of the Outlast creatures give very relevant keyword abilities to creatures with +1/+1 counters like First Strike (Ainok Bond-Kin), Trample (Tuskguard Captain), Flying (Abzan Falconer). The last two being able to win the game on the spot very often (also make cards like Feat of Resistance way better). Incremental Growth is a card you should respect and play around if you are playing against Abzan and you should certainly pick it you are playing Abzan. Abzan Guide is very good for keeping the more aggressive decks in check.

Jeskai is the tempo in this format usually running Prowess creatures and noncreature spells that matter and gain tempo. Those spells are either removal in the form of burn spells, bounce or other tricks like Crippling Chill. It can play a longer game and finish it with Flying Crane Technique (that card can easily deal 18 points of damage). Even without rares the deck is good - a successful attack in which Efreet Weaponmaster gets turned face up is good enough to win the game. Common cards that can finish the opponent off are Mystic of the Hidden Way or Arrow Storm. Since Jeskai decks are on the aggressive spectrum of decks they are usually either Boros splashing blue or blue-white splashing red.

I wasn't good at drafting Jeskai. Usually, I ended up in those colors because I first picked Mantis Rider or Flying Crane Technique.

Mardu decks are the aggressive decks which can be easily guessed since the Mardu signature ability is Raid that cares about you attacking with a creature that turn. These decks thus play cheap and efficient attackers and usually finish the game in an alpha strike with Trumpet Blast or Rush of Battle cast. A stalled board can also be sometimes broken with a single Act of Treason. Some decks can go wide with Hordeling Outburst, Mardu Charm, and Ponyback Brigade and then deal lethal with Trumpet Blast or Rush of Battle. Similarly to Jeskai, Mardu decks are mostly two color decks splashing a third color, but can also result in a two colored deck.

Temur decks are the good stuff decks often playing big creatures. The 'big' is rather specific because Temur cards have often the keyword Ferocious on them. Similarly to Raid this keyword only checks for a condition, in this case controlling a creature with power 4 or more. The creatures you want to play is Snowhorn Rider or Surrak Dragonclaw. These kind of decks find a good use for Savage Punch and are likely to win thanks to Roar of Challenge (or Awaken the Bear) if game gets to a stalled game state.

Sultai decks are usually midrange to control decks that primarily run defensive creatures (Sultai Soothsayer, Sultai Flayer and Archers' Parapet) and removal (Debilitating Injury, Murderous Cut). They are winning with a flyer (Sultai Scavenger or Abomination of Gudul), several copies of Archers' Parapet, or simply with something big like Woolly Loxodon. Sultai ability is Delve which means that Sultai cards are also able to put cards into a graveyard in order to be able to either do something with them or just cast the Delve spells. These decks play the long game so you also have to pay attention to how many cards you have in your library.

4-color or 5-color decks can be either a 3-color decks splashing a color or two (often Sultai splashes another color) or they are dedicated 4-color or 5-color good stuff decks. Both of these approaches work and these decks can perform very well since the multicolored cards and multicolored Morph cards are very strong. These deck run less removal and play more mana fixing so they can start playing their bombs as soon as possible.

GR Savage Punch
Green-Red Savage Punch is also an archetype. Savage Punch is a very good removal when you can consistently cast it with Ferocious. That means the deck runs creatures like Alpine Grizzly, Bloodfire Expert, Summit Prowler, Hooting Mandrills etc. Since the deck is aggressive it also needs about 4 two-drops (War-Name Aspirant, Valley Dasher, Highland Game). The rest of the deck packs more removal in the form of Bring Low, Arrow Storm, Arc Lightning.

Blue-Green Tempo
One of the cards I really liked in Khans of Tarkir was Icefeather Aven. The card itself doesn't really fit in many decks. The deck that wants it is a blue-green tempo that runs efficient and if possible evasive attackers and cards to gain tempo and clear the path for the creatures - Force Away, Crippling Chill etc.

I hope that this article will either refresh your memory, even give you a tip or two, or will help you understand what to expect from Khans of Tarkir Flashback drafts if you are new to that format. The format is complex, powerful and fun so if you have never played it before I recommend doing so.

Have fun drafting!
S'Tsung (Follow me @stsungjp on Twitter)


I suspect you could turn out by Paul Leicht at Wed, 08/29/2018 - 15:09
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I suspect you could turn out a nice analysis (or several analyses) of the Tribal Wars Apocalypse if you were to put your amazing mind to it. I'd love to see the breakdown of how the TWA meta works. This is brilliant even though I am not a limited player. I do remember playing some Khans (pre-release mainly) and finding Morph critters to be very powerful.

Thanks for reading. As far as by stsung at Thu, 08/30/2018 - 04:18
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Thanks for reading.
As far as I understand Tribal Wars changes its banlist to always somehow weaken the strongest tribe/deck which impacts the whole metagame. Some tribes will always be stronger than others, on the other hand there is a big variety of decks that can work in terms of archetypes and they don't necessarily sometimes need to be tribe dependent. I'd be interested in seeing trends and what works in the format but I'd have to play it. From what I've seen players do not strive to find the best decks but rather try to figure out how to make something work and see if it can stand a chance. This is what makes the format very diverse (and metagame doesn't really exist). People bring decks of all types and power levels (and budget).
There are also different types of events for Tribal Wars. For example if you look at Legacy, in that format you already have good tribal decks like Eldrazi, Merfolk, Elves, Humans. Goblins and Slivers can work as well and if you'd want to see what a TW metagame could look like you'd start there. I don't know what is banned so I don't know how viable these decks would be in TW. Based on that people would be looking for something to fight these decks and they would come up with something. When that would prove to be good the decks that originally dominated would be forgotten for a while and replaced with something that can metagame against the antidecks. That's how metagames basically work. They are usually cyclical and are driven by what is popular and what makes the popular go away. For that a format needs to be played a lot and by many people.
If you look at Standard you can see that playable tribes are elves, humans, zombies, dinosaurs, vampires, merfolk, pirates, wizards. Among these tribes you know which can prevail against other tribes. Like Human/Wizard decks are the better pirates deck that can actually fight anything that doesn't go too wide fast. Like the worst matchup is practically Vampire. Each deck operates differently, Human/Wizard decks are tempo, Merfolk can be low to the ground aggro, Zombies can be anything from aggro to slower midrange aggressive deck, pirates are also aggressive or a tempo deck. vampires can be either aggressive or token based. dinosaurs can be a ramp, combo or stompy. Elves just play elves and then overrun you. In this format though you can also play something like Constructs which will be able to play good aggressive creatures but also gems like Traxxos or Fleetwheel Cruiser. Those are difficult cards to stop in a creature based format that isn't full of Abrade which is a common card, similarly to white Enchantment removal in normal Standard when that is necessary. In Tribal you don't need those and probably won't run them much which can make some cards way better.
Never mind, this is just an approach I'd take if I were to build a deck.

I kind of meant an entire by Paul Leicht at Thu, 08/30/2018 - 21:16
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I kind of meant an entire article akin to this one but that's a nice start. I think figuring out how to build your deck is part of the process you were talking about so battle half done.

You can find the banned lists on google docs here:

It is true these change occasionally but not that often.

The green 6/7 morph was very by Hearts at Wed, 08/29/2018 - 23:23
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The green 6/7 morph was very good.

The green 6/7 morph was very by Hearts at Wed, 08/29/2018 - 23:23
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The green 6/7 morph was very good.

Yes, the best common one. by stsung at Thu, 08/30/2018 - 03:32
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Yes, the best common one.