With Dragon’s Maze fully spoiled, I have some very mixed feelings. In terms of constructed there are several cards in the set that make me outright furious. While I am happy that they seem to be trying to push the power level back, there are several cards that I find more or less insulting.
Missed the Boat
I want to start by talking about Skylasher. What is even going on here? I understand that Delver of Secrets and Geist of Saint Traft still exist in Standard, but their time in the sun has passed. Sure, UG Delver and Bantchantments are decks, but how good are they really? Do either make up a significant portion of the metagame for you to dedicate sideboard slots to a Grizzly Bears? What’s more, Geist is paired almost exclusively with cards that make it attack favorably into Skylasher. Gift of Orzhova and Ethereal Armor turn your sick blocker into a 2.5″ x 3.5″ embodiment of embarrassment.
But what about Modern and Legacy?
GET IT?! It’s funny because a Grizzly Bear that only attacks and blocks is even more laughable in those formats than it is in Standard. I mean, what deck is going to commit to that? This is a worse version of Great Sable Stag that showed up far too late.
This is No Hammer
Now let’s talk about a card that actively upset me, because it’s soooooo close to being awesome. What on God’s green earth is going on with Pyrewild Shaman? It’s like a weird-homage to Hammer of Bogardan that seems intent on delivering the message that Hammer of Bogardan would be unplayable today, therefor similar cards should likewise be unplayable. In what universe is a Red deck going to win games where it has mana to mess around rebuying Giant Growths? All of the successful red-based decks of late have been tap-out style decks, and slamming a Hellrider or Thundermaw Hellkite is basically always going to be a dramatically better play. And as far as the card also being a three drop? I’ve heard it told that Boros Reckoner is still legal. I’m not even convinced that this guy is comparable to Pyreheart Wolf.
Then we have Aetherling… I imagine that the design file on this card reads something like “… Upped the manacost and made exiling part of the resolution of the first ability rather than activation. Otherwise we might have made a card that was flashy AND playable.” Again, we get it. Morphling wouldn’t be good anymore, we don’t need to see similar cards not be good to understand this.
Alright, I’m done whining now. You probably already know what bad cards look like, so let’s talk about exciting things! I like being excited. And this limited format looks pretty promising. “What’s to like about it?” one might ask. Well, you see..
I Get to Force Five Color
If you’ve ever Cubed with me you’ve probably heard me say the phrase, “looks like we’re five color” at least three times. There’s just no better way to generate absurd limited scenarios than to draft a deck with a manabase that makes every spell in the format a possibility. Full block Return to Ravnica limited offers us unique incentives to accomplish this feat. The guarantee of a dual land in every pack in pack one in addition to scattered duals and manarocks in the other packs gives us pretty good control over what colors we play.
I’m getting the impression that this limited format won’t lend itself to consistently drafting two-color decks, though I imagine when they’re open they’ll be quite potent. Being open to drafting them when they’re made available will be important, but for the most part I believe that having a general strategy for drafting powerful 3+ color decks is going to prove invaluable. Let’s take a second to take an inventory of our priorities.
What we need more than anything are bombs and manafixing. Bombs pretty clearly come first. If our spells aren’t going to consistently be more powerful than our opponent’s then there’s no reason to stretch our mana further than their’s. Fixing also clearly matters because if we can’t cast our powerful spells then we’re not playing Magic. This you knew. This is obvious. This isn’t Standard though, so just slamming our best spell on every turn isn’t going to get us there. There are some nuances that need working out.
Find a Primary Color/Guild
A major lesson in deck-building is to find your theme, but not to be a slave to it, and that applies to limited as well as constructed. Sure, we’re trying to be splashy and powerful, but if we’re going to win we need to be consistent. Years ago Adrian Sullivan wrote a solid article about an archetype (or rather, set of archetypes) for Alara Block called two-color five-color.
Since our late-game will be, hopefully, considerably stronger than our opponents we’ll need to spend some time surviving. Having a good amount of two and three drops in one color or one guild will allow us to masquerade as one of the other, weaker decks while we build up to our big finish. I imagine green is where we’ll want to try to be based so that we can scoop up things like Greenside Watcher, Axebane Guardian and Gatecreeper Vine in packs two and three. Things like Cluestones and Keyrunes will be good for our mana if green isn’t open, but the bodies on green fixing are important for our next point of focus.
With Gatecrash in the format it’s pretty clear that aggressive decks will still be possible in full block, and for that reason our early drops are going to need to be able to destroy creatures and/or block them. If you’ve had the misfortune of ending up in Dimir in Gatecrash, you probably understand that Gutter Skulk was one of your most important cards because you needed to survive long enough to get to the point on the curve where your good spells were hiding.
In Alara block limited my favorite card may have very well been Spore Burst. If you can block long enough, you buy the time to make your hay-makers. Alternatively, you can overrun them with your bodies meant for blocking if your removal is good enough.
On the topic of blocking, the cycle that I expect to be pretty undervalued early in the limited format is the Gatekeepers. The 2/4 bodies all provide solid roadblocks and all but the red one provide utility that advances the game-plan of winning long games. I’m going to be quite excited to wheel these guys for a couple weeks, but it shouldn’t take too long for their power-level to be made apparent.
So, I don’t see a ton for constructed coming out of Dragon’s Maze, but I anticipate doing a ton of drafts- sort of a trend in modern Magic that I’ve been noticing. I’ll attempt to get some draft videos up when the set becomes available on MTGO and I fully intend to do some streaming at that point. To everybody attending a prerelease this weekend, I wish you the very best of luck, and I encourage you to play with all of the colors and experience the joy of grinding people out in limited.
Thanks for reading.
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter