Limited Spotlight: Learning from Your Draft Decks
Welcome back everyone! Today I’ll be doing something a little different as part of my Limited Spotlight series (these articles supplement Compulsion’s and my Theros: Beyond Death Tier List, which is updated regularly including an upcoming one next week) – I’ll be showing you some of my own Draft decks and assessing/analyzing certain aspects of them. This is an important skill to learn from your drafts, and really everyone looking to improve should be doing it at least a bit – you don’t need to write it all out (though from a memory standpoint, it helps if you can be bothered to!), but you need to be looking for what your draft decks are doing well and badly and what you can learn from them for next time. If you see yourself making the same mistakes in lots of drafts, it’s time to address those! I’ll be demonstrating roughly what I think about for you here.
This’ll be mainly from Theros: Beyond Death, but I threw in a Ravnica Allegiance Draft as well. I’ve provided screenshots of the deck and sideboard from my records, but what I should’ve done here is taken some screenshots within the games to show what hands I kept and how things went. That didn’t occur to me at the time but I will next time! There’s certainly more to learn from the decks here, but I will try to describe how the decks played out and what one can learn from those too, to the degree that I remember them. I hope people find my insights useful; please leave some feedback if you feel I didn’t address a point or you would’ve done something differently in one of my deckbuilds!
Before we begin:
- I discuss how each draft went, but I advise people not to take records as a great judge of deck quality; Magic is a game decided in large part by variance and records are a very small sample size so how good a deck is and how well it does doesn’t always correlate! You might see me tear into some aspects of my decks that did well, or be complimentary of some aspects decks that did badly on that basis; I try to evaluate my own decks fairly based on what I believe and what I learn in the games, not be totally record-driven.
- Improvements don’t necessarily mean mistakes; it’s very easy to have an impression of how a deck will turn out in a draft which doesn’t quite pan out, for example, so you pick towards that idea and then have to adjust later on. Sometimes you’ll even pivot colour, so a pick will work out poorly based on that, but won’t have been wrong at the time. All this is normal and part of what makes draft so interesting and dynamic. Improvements can also be unrealistic; sometimes you’re just not offered the cards. It’s still very useful to be able to evaluate what separates a great deck from merely a good one though, so I still think it’s important to consider that aspect, but don’t beat yourself up!
- I apologise if some of the screenshots look a bit weird; I was taking them for my personal records not for an article at the time!
Theros: Beyond Death: Izzet Fish (3-3)
- Good aggressive gameplan; Lionfish plus instants can add up to a lot of damage.
- Flood resistance and ability to outcard opponents with 2 Thirst for Meaning, 1 Omen of the Sea, and 1 Shoal Kraken.
- Nadir Kraken is a powerful standalone card.
- Some good removal spells.
Before I played the games, I thought this deck was pretty bad, primarily for the first two reasons.
- This deck doesn’t have the catchup mechanisms to really play from behind, and Theros: Beyond Death is a grindy value-oriented format where you need to either do that or be a good aggro deck. This is because the deck isn’t good at stabilising the board or have much late game – big bodies are good at stabilising the board, so I tried to put in the two Giants for that but I suspected it wouldn’t be enough to stem off being raced. Ultimately, I’m playing a bunch of counterspells and trying to attrition people out with no haymakers in an Escape format.
- This deck is a failed aggro deck. That’s because I don’t have efficient early creatures or other ways to really take over from the early game; I have reach and evasion but I don’t have the core of an aggro deck that can deal the first 15 points, because my creatures are small and weak, and I don’t have loads of efficient spells to make up for that. I was very worried about being raced here.
- I couldn’t play a good fliers game because I didn’t have enough. I considered Riptide Turtle which is great in fliers decks, but I couldn’t play it here because I didn’t have enough fliers or ways to capitalise on stalling the game out – I could not afford to let things get to the late game.
- No escape cards in a format dominated by Escape is a really bad place to be.
How Things Went/Trivia
Based on how the games played out, I was mostly right in my analysis – I got raced a bunch in the games I lost, and I had to play a slow attritiony game or surprise them by tapping down their blockers and doing enough incremental damage with my tiny creatures in the games I won. The main thing I did wrong in my maindeck was not evaluate how bad counterspells were in my deck – I just really couldn’t capitalise on them because I couldn’t play a good aggro-control game with slow and bad threats. I eschewed Impending Doom for Deny the Divine in the first couple of games, and I realised I was very wrong to do that and made the switch later; don’t be afraid to revisit your decks and switch things up that aren’t working!
- I think I made a pretty critical mistake in the Draft stage here. I tried to build this deck towards aggro-control, even though I didn’t have the core to actually pull it off, and I think that’s a big problem with Izzet this format in general – it doesn’t have good early threats and it doesn’t have good late game. Vexing Gull/Stinging Lionfish beatdown was by itself never going to put my opponents enough on the backfoot for me to be able to stand behind a wall of counterspells; I just played those cards and then was behind on board so I couldn’t afford to hold countermagic up. What I should have done was eschew Counterspells and try to build purely for aggression, and when I switched Deny the Divine for Impending Doom, that was me realising my mistake too late (not that the deck was good even then, but it would have been better if I realised it in the drafting stage).
- Leading on from that, I think I went into Izzet too early on the basis of a Nadir Kraken and a Purphoros’s Intervention – I tried to force my best cards too much, when I knew Izzet was bad in the format and I would need more than just those for it to be worth it i.e. I needed Mischievous Chimeras and Underworld Rage-Hounds, and I even passed a Rage-Hound for an Arena Trickster, which was foolish.
Theros: Beyond Death: Rakdos Removal Pile (7-0, but sort of an outlier…)
- Enormous amounts of quality removal, much of it hard or efficient, from Iroas’s Blessing to Final Death to Purphoros’s Intervention.
- Some good ways to close the game on an empty board, like Skophos Maze-Warden, Underworld Rage-Hound, Gravebreaker Lamia, and Enemy of Enlightenment. Overall, strong attrition gameplan; efficient removal means games can become attritiony quite quickly.
- A couple of decent Escape cards, important in this format, and I also have Lamia + Hierophant to enable them.
- Plenty of cards that are weak to medium in the deck, like Stampede Rider and Scavenging Harpy. Even Slaughter-Priest of Mogis and Fateful End are merely okay; I don’t have that much to sacrifice (but often people play auras to lock down your creatures this format, so sacrifice becomes free more often)
- This kind of deck struggles against aggro and I had a lot of efficient late removal but not that much early. No Mire’s Grasps or good early blockers other than Lampad, which is sort of medium here itself.
- Needed more sources of card advantage to play a more consistent controlling game; only have Gravebreaker Lamia and Hateful Eidolon (and maybe Venomous Hierophant mills one of the two Escape cards). Deck could’ve really used Funeral Rites or Soulreaper of Mogis, for example (I didn’t have much to sac but I did pass up on Discordant Piper a couple of times).
- Only Final Death and Scavenging Harpy to attack Escape cards; this kind of deck struggles with those and destroy removal isn’t great against them.
How Things Went/Trivia:
As the title gives away, I think I ran a bit well here – I think this deck was very good and would not have been surprised to merely go 7 wins with it though. I don’t think I ran into many aggro decks or decks that were really good at fuelling Escape and getting a big threat out every single turn; those are the deck’s clear main weaknesses and so I was able to kind of slaughter the midrange and green decks I ran into. I think this does sort of speak to the format though; Theros: Beyond Death is not a great aggro format and a lot of games become very attritiony (which is why Escape is so good) so a deck like this is likely to overperform. This deck would do far worse in a more aggressive format.
- The main thing is I really should’ve focused on getting good early blockers; this sort of removal pile deck gets a lot worse when you have to remove random 2/2s. That’s why I left Stampede Rider in, but I also passed up on Discordant Piper a couple of times (for admittedly slightly better cards in general, but perhaps not at the time). I don’t think I saw any Mire’s Grasps, but that card would obviously be fantastic here. I do think Red and Black tend to have less access to great early blockers this format though.
- I passed Funeral Rites for Stampede Rider in the midgame, when I already had a bunch of removal. I don’t really see this as a mistake, since I wasn’t sure if I would be Black at the time, but it did work out poorly and perhaps I should’ve anticipated the pivot a bit more.
- I did sort of add this one because I think it’s important to assess the decks you did well with in the same way; realising when a deck is an outlier and you shouldn’t reach too many conclusions on the basis of its performance is important too!
Ravnica Allegiance: Gruul Beats (6-3)
- Strong early curve.
- Good small-creature removal. Some good specific answers to Orzhov in Dagger Caster and Scorchmark.
- Good beatdown plan of big creatures supplemented by tricks and removal.
- Some strong late game in triple Hybrid/Ravager Wurm.
- Lack of 4 drops means I often have to drop 2 2s on t4, which can be ineffectual in some board states.
- Lack of good bigger removal, but that’s a problem with Gruul in Allegiance in general.
- No fixing in a format with plenty.
- Double Steeple Creeper gave me a pretty big weakness to Orzhov, where their abundant 2/xs could just shut that card down.
- Not amazing at closing out games/play from behind, bad in a board stall. Rendhorns helped a bit with that, but having only haste creatures and no evasion meant I had to go through my opponents rather than around; this is a general issue Gruul has in the format though.
How Things Went/Trivia:
I thought this was a pretty good deck and was a bit disheartened when I started off 0-2. Game 1 I drew a couple more lands than my opponent late and that clinched it, and game 2 I kept a two Forest opener and didn’t draw Mountain until t5 against Orzhov. I do think you have to be a bit greedy in general with Draft keeps, since it’s much easier to play from behind in Draft than Constructed in general, but it is true that Gruul can’t do that quite as well, so perhaps I should’ve mulled that hand (though I do think then sometimes you run into the classic Gruul problem of not quite being able to finish out the game and then struggling in a board stall).
Then I pulled back from the brink! I began to run into Simic and Azorius decks, which I think are in general good matchups for Gruul, and they were too slow to really keep up with me. One Azorius opponent got aggressive on the basis that they had High Alert and felt they could just race me, but my fight spells still worked (High Alert says “combat damage”) and I had Collision at a clutch moment to prevent their Senate Courier from running away with the game. I was able to outgrind the Simic decks in the late game with my Hybrids and just attacking a lot.
I was on the draw for the final game and my mana base caught up with me again! I kept a three mountain opener, which was a fine keep on the draw, and didn’t draw green until t3 so I wasn’t able to deploy a 2 drop against my opponent’s nut Orzhov Imperious Oligarch into Blade Juggler opener. I decided I had to play a stall game since I was too far behind to race (which isn’t really something you want to do against Orzhov but so it goes), and I was starting to pull back when my opponent dropped Ethereal Absolution! I tried to play on for a bit, but that card is very hard to grind through, so I ended up with a respectable 6-3 record.
- Having looked at the Draft again, I don’t think there was a spot where I could’ve reasonably taken Gruul Guildgate because I only saw a couple and there were better playables in those packs, but certainly this deck would’ve benefited from that; I got mana screwed really a lot. To account for this and the fact that I had 4 6 drops, I should probably honestly have just played an 18th land over Steeple Creeper or Gift of Strength, but I was too greedy.
- I didn’t play Axebane Guardian despite lack of 4 drops, because I thought the card was just too much weaker than the rest of my creatures, but I think I should probably have actually played that over Steeple Creeper… I think I was focusing too hard on the idea of being aggro and therefore wanting creatures that attack better, but I think I would’ve been able to outlast my opponents with my late game if I had had a better blocker instead of Steeple Creeper at certain moments; Steeple Creeper is just really that bad in a format dominated by Orzhov.
- This draft is a good example of why you shouldn’t feel down at 0-2; it’s entirely possible it affected my game a bit in the game 3 and I could’ve thrown the game if it were a very hard one, and there was no reason to. I was down but I wasn’t out! My mood recovered quickly as I started to win, but really it’s not healthy to be results-oriented like that and it’s something I need to keep in check.
I’m going to leave it at three decks today since I wrote quite a lot on each. I have many more I could show so if people like this sort of content, please leave a comment, as it really helps me gauge what I should be writing about and whether I should do a follow-up. Thanks for reading!
As always, you can find all my articles, the whole shebang from Limited Set Reviews to Draft Tier List to Strategy Articles to Deck Guides, at mtgazone.com/drifter. If you don’t see anything specific then I’d recommend Hypergeometric Calculator in Magic, my strategy article which teaches you how to tap into an invaluable resource pros already use, to assist in your deckbuilding and mulliganning decisions!
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