The majority of my preparation and testing time for Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica in Atlanta was spent focusing on the draft portion. I had played a Boros weenie deck at Grand Prix Lille in Standard and was comfortable with that and my team mate Francesco Giorgio had finished 9th with Jeskai Control. This meant that I believed that my Constructed decklist would likely be one of these two and that I’d have a decent list which I could probably play with sufficient skill to get a reasonable finish in Standard. In draft, however, I was far less confident and I am a firm believer that the draft portion of the Pro Tour is the easiest area to pick up equity.
Magic Online leagues have led to an ease of drafting which previously did not exist, allowing players to get far more reps than they would have been possible previously when only 8-player queues existed. However, this has led people to get a lot of play experience with archetypes and cards but not fully understand and explore the dynamics of the draft format in terms of pod play. Drafting in leagues often leads to a much higher difference in power level between decks as you play against opponents from outside of your pod. Therefore, what may have been a strong deck in a low powered pod ends up being destroyed in a league. Similarly, it is difficult to assess the approximate viability of a colour combination within a pod if you simply draft in leagues as you don’t see the end result of each seat and cannot determine if a deck failed due to mis-reading signals, your archetype being overdrafted or other factors. On top of this, there is no value to hate-drafting in Magic Online leagues nor do building your deck to account for cards you saw during the draft or playing in a way to mitigate specific combat tricks or cards you passed in a certain direction come into play. All of these skills are important aspects of Booster Draft and something you can only really become proficient in if you are able to do a large number of pod drafts in person. To this end, Team Axion conducted a Draft Camp weekend on Guilds of Ravnica release weekend and did some data analysis on the results from it, as well as having a lengthy meeting on our thoughts about the format. After arriving in Atlanta, on the Monday prior to the Pro Tour, those of us in the testing house spent most of our time drafting or doing draft related exercises such as the Draft Grid.
The Draft Grid involves taking 8 packs and determining the first eight picks of each drafter. It helps to see the flow of the draft from a top-down perspective.
After having done a fairly large number of drafts on Magic Online and a decent number in paper I came to some conclusions on how I like to draft the format and how I envision the successful decks for each archetype.
The main archetypes I wanted to avoid were the slower Green decks; Golgari Midrange and Selesnya Midrange were not consistently beating the aggressive decks in the format and were consistently losing to the Blue based decks. I believe that both the slower Selesyna decks and all Golgari decks require some high powered rares as well as the guild to be relatively open in order to succeed, although those two guilds being relatively open is frequently the case. The other archetype I wanted to avoid was what we termed ‘Bad Izzet’ and this was a much harder conclusion to reach. The aggressive Izzet decks with Beamsplitter Mages and Piston-Fist Cyclops and Leapfrogs are incredibly fun to play but these cards are individually not that powerful and cards such as Sonic Assault of Maximize Altitude are truly awful if you aren’t the aggressor or if you lack the creatures to support them. I drafted this archetype a lot and believed it to be quite good for quite a long time. However, I think that the Blue and Red cards in GRN Draft are too split in their purpose for this archetype to be consistently good and more often you end up with some control elements, some combo elements and some mediocre bodies. This observation had the consequence that if I drafted Izzet cards early I would be looking to take a more control oriented approach to deckbuilding.
Example of Izzet Control, 3-0 Atlanta Airport Team Draft!
The archetypes I was most actively looking to draft were White aggressive decks; both Boros and Selesyna aggro are relatively easy to build without an absolute need for the highest quality cards. It is often possible to draft a good white aggressive deck from the commons that you will see late in packs and if you can then flesh it out with some good quality rares or uncommons, you have an excellent chance of winning your pod. Cards such as Skyline Scout, Vernadi Shieldmate and Fresh-Face Recruit can form the basis for a solid deck, especially when supported by Gird for Battle, Take Heart or Pack’s Favour.
Autumn Burchett, PT GRN Draft 1, 2-1
Autumn Burchett, PT GRN Draft 2, 3-0
The best approach to drafting these decks is to take the two drop creatures of reasonable quality highly, especially the white ones, and then try to determine which of the two white guilds is open. If Selesyna is the open guild then Rosemane Centaurs, Ironshell Beetles, Devkarin Dissidents and Pack’s Favours are your bread and butter. If Boros is open then you should look for Wojek Bodyguards, Rubblebelt Boars, Sure Strikes and any of the gold cards you can get. In both decks Take Heart, Parhelion Patrol and Intrusive Packbeast are solid roleplayers and you should be able to pick some up relatively easily. The premium non-rare cards include Might of the Masses, Roc Charger and the gold uncommon creatures. Healer’s Hawks, Luminous Bonds, premium removal and any strong rares are also premium cards for both guilds.
Another reason I liked to start a draft with some reasonable white cards is that I was comfortable drafting Boros decks which were a little bigger and more midrange than what most people were aiming to draft. Most players seemed to want to draft their GRN Boros decks in the same way that M19 Boros decks were drafted: incredibly low curve and quickly overwhelming the opponent with a 4 mana spell (Cosmotronic Wave in GRN and Heroic Reinforcements/Inspired Charge in M19). This is a perfectly viable way to draft Boros in GRN but I do not believe it to be the only way. I had success with Boros decks with a higher removal count and a slightly slower gameplan, most frequently with the top of the curve being Swathcutter Giant. This card is really quite powerful and yet is much maligned and can often be seen very late in packs. Both the body and the text on the card are quite strong and I found it to be an excellent finisher for slower Boros decks or those lacking in the necessary power to end the game early.
George Channing, Draft 1 PT GRN, 3-0.
Dimir is also an archetype I am happy to draft although getting into Dimir in the early picks is a dangerous game as a lot of the Black removal spells should be considered as Dimir cards rather than mono-coloured cards. This is due to the inherent weakness of Golgari, coupled with Golgari actually not wanting too many spells. Dimir can be built in a number of ways from leaning towards a tempo-value deck with Darkblade Agents to the full control builds with Devious Cover-Ups and a lot of removal and surveil in order to lock your opponent out of the game entirely. Both of these can be good strategies and the overall quality of the Dimir cards is quite high. The main thing to be aware of when drafting Dimir is that you need to draft sufficient ways to win the game as both Citywatch Sphinx and Watcher in the Mist are extremely sought after in all blue decks. It is important to balance your removal suite, finishers and surveil synergies and this requires quite a bit of experience and probably decking yourself due to a lack of win conditions a few times before you can find that balance!
There are a few natural three colour combinations in GRN Drafts: Dimir can pair with Red for removal such as Hypothesizzle or Green for creatures such as Kraul Foragers, Rhizome Lurcher and Affectionate Indrik. Izzet can pair with White for an array of cards and Golgari can pair with either White or Blue to bolster the power level of their deck. However, it is also possible to draft a 4 or even 5 colour deck if you feel comfortable doing so. There are a handful of payoffs for playing a heavily Guildgate-centric strategy: Gatekeeper Gargoyle, Glaive of the Guildpact, Garrison Sergeant, Guild Summit and my personal favourite - playing a ton of rares. Key cards in the gate decks, other than those mentioned above will vary depending on what your base colours are but as always removal spells are a high priority. After that I would encourage you to look for things which can help catch you up from behind as some amount of the time will be spent fixing your mana or casting things like Guild Summit; Centaur Peacemaker and Kraul Foragers fit this role nicely. It is also an archetype that you should never really be looking to draft and only find yourself in if the packs break in an odd way which lends itself to this style of deck, even if it is the most fun you can have in the format.
Scott Lipp, PT GRN Draft 1, 2-1
George Channing, Testing House in Atlanta, 2-1
George Channing, PT GRN Draft 2, 2-1
My approach to drafting the format may not be the correct one but after having drafted the set a lot I feel confident in my conclusions and I would go so far as to say that I rate the guilds in the following order: Boros (both aggressive and midrange), Dimir (both tempo and control), Selesyna (aggressive only), Izzet (control only), 4-5C Gates, Golgari/Selesyna (Midrange which requires rares desperately), Izzet (aggro). I’ll leave you with a list of cards I believe are being overvalued and undervalued and may you open many bombs!
Swathcutter Giant (a powerful threat)
Invert//Invent and Chemister’s Insight (real card advantage is critical in the slower Blue decks)
Goblin Banneret (however good you think it is, it is better)
Wary Okapi (a very solid roleplayer in Green aggressive decks)
Devious Cover-Up (the best non-rare win condition in Blue control)
Deafening Clarion (an awkward early pick which only fits into Jeskai)
Maximize Altitude/Sonic Assault/Wee Dragonauts (these mostly only fit into a bad archetype)
About George Channing:
George has been playing competitively since 2014 and is a true grinder; with a huge number of competitive events under his belt, his results have been improving year on year. With a Grand Prix Top 8 in Modern and a few Pro Tour appearances, he aspires to become a regular on the biggest stage. George’s role on Team Axion is frequently related to metagame and decklist analysis, whilst also providing a lot of raw testing data. He most enjoys Standard with the speed and frequency of the metagame developments keeping it interesting.