Throne of Eldraine Draft Strategies and Tips – Learn How to Evaluate New Formats
Hi folks! It’s Drifter and I’m back with another guide, although this one will be a little different from those in my Drafting with Style basic draft concepts series! I’m about twelve bo3 drafts and a few sealeds into Throne of Eldraine; I’ve played both in paper and online. I feel like I have a reasonable early grasp of the format and with bo1 ranked draft just released on arena, I feel ready to write down some of my thoughts. If this is your first article of mine, welcome! I introduce myself in my first Drafting with Style article; have a look there if you’d like to know a bit more about me.
This won’t be an archetypes guide – while those are important, I aim to make this a general in-depth guide for approaches to the format and things to consider. My aim is not only to help you assess the format, give you a ton of helpful tricks and enable you to draft it better, but to help you assess future formats, draw your own conclusions and have a better understanding of draft theory.
I’ll mostly be talking about just a couple of topics in a lot of depth in this article: why the format is slow and strategies to deal with that slowness, and about the format’s mana bases, with a lot of helpful general advice sprinkled throughout. For specific archetype analysis, I would recommend Compulsion’s Draft Guide.
This article is intended for both paper and arena play: there are differences between each that I will discuss briefly, but that won’t be the focus. There’s a glossary at the end that defines a few commonly-used draft terms I use in the article, for newer players.
Why is the format slow and what does that mean for it?
ELD is the slowest draft format we’ve had on arena and for years in paper; it is very value-oriented and most players will have ways to use their mana and gas extending long into the late game. You should go in expecting long to very long games and prepare for those. We’re going to talk about what makes the format slow and the implications of its slowness.
Firstly, food tokens mean that it’s pretty difficult for aggro players to finish off their opponents. In Eldraine, it is as though each player starts off at 25 life, and some players who have drafted lots of food generators will have more than 30 over the course of the game (often green decks will, thanks to commons like Fierce Witchstalker and Gingerbread Cabin). This greatly weakens direct burn, a natural and common decider of games, and increases the likelihood of a player being able to stabilise, even if they have a low-tempo turn or two. Both of these things are really bad for aggro decks so you shouldn’t expect to face many good aggro decks or be able to draft that many yourself.
On the flip side, good aggro decks are really powerful, because people won’t prepare for them very much, and you can easily sweep a draft if you do manage to get the necessary pieces – which is mainly good high tempo 2 drops, evasive creatures and efficient removal to clear the way. This is a strategy that decks like Boros Knights especially can employ – curving good 2 drop knights into Belle of the Brawl and following up with evasive knights like Ardenvale Tactician can easily steal some games before your opponent is able to mount proper defences. If you can put so much pressure on that your opponent doesn’t have time to both answer your board and crack food tokens, your burn e.g. Searing Barrage, might well be online fast enough.
Secondly, the adventure cards naturally mean that a lot of the creatures in the format have value in addition to their bodies. When a creature has a valuable secondary effect other than its stats, that creature will usually take a hit on their stats to make them a less good tempo play, and that goes for every common and uncommon adventure card. When you’re looking to evaluate cards, you need to assess their advantages and shortcomings within the framework of the format (or early in a format, without that framework), and often a card that excels at one particular thing (like adventure cards at providing value) will be weaker in other areas for balancing purposes.
Adventure cards are naturally a little weaker on stats than regular creatures because a lot of the incentive to draft and play them is wrapped up in the adventure. A card like Garenbrig Carver, for example, is a horrible tempo play as a 4 mana 3/2 (a statline that often trades for 2 drops), but you also get a decent trick alongside it and that makes it a strong card in the format. Adventure cards are also less likely to have keyword abilities, including evasion (sure, Faerie Guidemother has evasion, but the body on that card is very weak to compensate), and so they’re not very good at acting as reach themselves (see glossary). The format’s slowness means you should take most Adventure cards highly and be happy to have a lot of them, even if their statline isn’t great, because tempo isn’t as important in this format as in faster ones and you have a good chance of being able to stabilise, even if you have a few low-tempo turns.
Adventure cards also mean that dedicated late game isn’t as important in Eldraine – you won’t run out of stuff to do late all that quickly anyway and many games will be decided by expensive late Adventure creatures like Reaper of Night. So, don’t have too many 6 or 7 drops, don’t take them all that highly, and don’t feel like you need them if you have Adventure creatures you can instead be casting late. Some Adventure cards like Prized Unicorn or Flaxen Intruder, which are quite weak on both halves, are affected by this – in a normal format, the value of having two bodies off Prized Unicorn would mean more, but if you have stuff to cast late anyway, you might not even end up casting the creature half. Mana sinks (unless they’re incredibly powerful like Syr Konrad) are also a little less necessary here, since you won’t have the mana to spend on them if you’re casting Adventure creatures late anyway so a card like Castle Ardenvale, which would be an extremely high pick in a lot of formats, is merely good in this one, and you should take great commons and uncommons like Scorching Dragonfire or even Reave Soul over it.
If the creatures in a format are small and ill-equipped to kill people, either quickly or later on with evasion, then a format is much less likely to be fast – the presence of a lot of cheap evasive creatures is a good way to discern fast draft formats from slow. A format like Amonkhet or Zendikar had a bunch of efficient, evasive 2 drops (like Gust Walker and Plated Geopede) and that meant that blocking wasn’t possible most of the time, and so you had to attack to survive. Throne is not like that; blocking is a fine strategy against most of the creatures here, though you do need to watch out for adventure tricks specifically – you really don’t want to give them value off the adventure side if you can afford not to since unlike with most tricks, they aren’t even a card down. I would always recommend having a look over the instants and flash cards in a format at common/uncommon before you start drafting a format, and have it open as you draft – here’s a helpful list of them from Arenazone’s very own Terence: Throne of Eldraine Instants, Flash and Tricks for Limited.
Generally the less good 2 drops are in a format, the slower the format, but this doesn’t really apply to Eldraine because a lot of the 2 drops have value in the late game. The presence of good 2 drop adventure cards means that you often don’t even want to play them on 2 if you don’t have to – holding a Shepherd of the Flock or Silverflame Squire to get value off the adventure half is very common, as Silverflame Squire is very underwhelming as a 2 mana 2/1 and the potential for Shepherd to blow out a removal spell or recur a different adventure creature makes it still a strong card in the late game. That doesn’t mean there are no good evasive 2 drops – Flutterfox roams the enchanted forests and you can sometimes play Hypnotic Sprite as a 2 – but by and large, the Eldraine 2 drops incentivise waiting and aren’t good at closing longer games out. Evasive 2 drops like Flutterfox are also better, because your opponent is less likely to be able to trade with them rather than just remove them. Getting your 2 drop removed for more mana than it cost is, as always, a good exchange.
Unlike most slow formats, you can play filler 2s a reasonable amount here. This is because many 2s have value in the late game and you want to hold some of them for that point, and because adventures are in the format and running out of gas in the late game is less common. It’s perfectly fine to have a couple of filler 2s to ensure you don’t get overrun by the faster decks, and to help fill your knight count, for example – I find myself playing Jousting Dummy a decent amount in the format since it’s a knight, has some value in its ability late and having colourless 2 drops is conducive to improving your mana base for Adamant.
Because the format is so slow, natural decking is a real thing and mill is also a supported archetype, so you really want to be at least trying to win the game in a reasonable frame of time if you are not equipped for the decking game. The key to doing this is to take evasive creatures higher, run a good amount of creatures and if you are playing against blue black especially, you want to try to play more aggressively – play those 2 drops for tempo and try to establish an early game presence. If you are playing green decks especially, I would recommend dropping spells in favour of creatures of about the same power level, if you have the option, since a good way to beat this deck is to overwhelm them with threats as Merfolk Secretkeepers and such aren’t actually very good at blocking. I would recommend not taking or running mediocre and situational removal like Outflank or So Tiny very highly in a deck that needs to attack to win (especially if you have creatures of similar power you can put in instead).
Dimir mill is the main attrition deck of the format, and I don’t recommend most other decks try to play an attrition plan – thanks to Adventures, your opponents will have things to cast late at most points and it will be harder to answer all of their value (and you’ll just lose to dimir mill). So really focus on having the tools to kill people at a reasonable pace, if you’re not dimir mill. If you aren’t that great at attacking advantageously in board stalls, that is a skill you need to work on for every limited format but will be especially important in this one (I talk about my coaching service at the end, if you are interested).
The crucial aspect when you’re trying to end games at a reasonable pace is curving out and playing your cards in a curve-efficient way – don’t think that because this is a slow format, you can afford to miss your curve plays. Like I said before, you don’t need dedicated late game as much in this format, so that gives you more room to work on your curve. Absolutely the difference between killing your opponent and failing to do so, in most limited games is the pressure you apply and pressure is the best way to beat Dimir mill. If you are Dimir mill yourself, try to pick up decent blockers and cards that help you stall out and buy time like Revenge of Ravens or So Tiny, but you don’t need to worry about your curve quite as much.
Remember, stall cards like Revenge of Ravens are going to be very bad against Dimir Mill, and you absolutely need to side them out against it in Bo3, regardless of what deck you are playing. Because it’s likely the best deck in the format, and you’re going to face it a lot (especially on arena where right now, the bots are underdrafting it), I would not recommend taking too many stall cards highly, or playing too many stall cards in the main if you are a different deck, especially in Bo1 – I know a lot of people see Revenge of Ravens as an overpowered mistake you take over everything, but it really does nothing against Dimir mill and you’re going to face that a lot, especially on arena, so you should adjust your pick order accordingly.
Throne of Eldraine Mana Bases
In ELD draft, you often want to be running a lot less of your secondary colour, mainly because of Adamant but also because it makes your filler lands like Witch’s Cottage better. Getting the Adamant boost from cards is often the deciding factor in whether a card is a good tempo play or not – playing a Locthwain Paladin as a 4/3 menace for 4 is quite powerful, but if you end up with a 3/2 menace for 4, it’s only about as good as a reasonable 3 drop and is vulnerable to being double blocked by two 2 power units (and is just a much slower clock). It is not worth running Lochthwain Paladin at all if you can’t get the Adamant boost reasonably consistently, and even with 10 black sources, you only have about a 60% chance of having Adamant on turn 4. Now, that’s not too bad, because sometimes you can play a different 4 drop on turn 4 and play Paladin with Adamant a bit later on, but that is about the least you want to be running to make the card decent.
In general, you want to only have Adamant cards in one colour, unless you’re happy to run the failcase of the card and not adjust your mana base for it. For example, if green is your secondary colour, you need to treat Garenbrig Paladin, if you decide to run it, as just a 4/4 for 4G that can’t be blocked by creatures with power 2 or less. This means you won’t try to include more green sources to improve your chances of Adamanting it because that will harm Adamant or double colour cost cards (see glossary) in your other colour, and that you won’t expect more from it than this statline when you decide whether to play it.
There’s also the cycle of hybrid cards like Resolute Rider, which are very good, but if you’re not in specifically those two colours, can really do a number of your mana base. I would not recommend playing these cards outside their colour combination, unless you can afford to run like 12 sources in the colour you’re using to cast them (which will require fixing) – and even then, you will only have about a 40% chance to cast Resolute Rider as a 4 drop, so you should treat it as more of a 6 drop. Most of the time, you won’t be able to have 12 sources, and then it’s really not worth having a brick in your hand for most of the game.
Mana bases in the format are most often 10/7 (main/secondary sources; see article linked a little later in this paragraph) but 11/6 is very reasonable, and sometimes if you don’t have much Adamant or your mana requirements aren’t too stringent, you can go back to 9/8. Fixing is scarce and if you have a lot of Adamant, you want to be taking it highly – as I discussed in my article on mana bases (Drafting with Style Part 2: What do those pretty symbols in the top right really mean for draft?), being unable to cast your cards is a lot like having much weaker cards (and sometimes no cards at all), and that especially applies to Adamant.
Thanks for tuning in, everyone! I do find that draft mana base analysis is a little under-explored a topic, and it is incredibly important so I chose to discuss that topic again on that basis – and clearly speed is one of the main axes on which to evaluate every format, and is especially important to an outlier like this one. If people like, I have a few more topics in mind and can do a follow-up.
Overall, there’s a lot I like about Eldraine draft – it feels very decision-intensive and there’s a lot of depth and complexity to it. Unfortunately, this is hurt by just the degree of how slow it is, especially when I mostly play Bo3 draft where my matches often take as much as an hour. I really enjoyed both WAR and M20 and those were slow formats themselves, but Eldraine overdoes it a bit. I think a format has issues when natural decking (not mill) is a serious consideration, and I do think mill is a bit too good and decides too many games in this one. But, I also think you can do a lot to beat it if you draft cohesively, keep your curve in mind, and make killing your opponents on time your focus.
The format has lots of opportunities for great fun and sweet plays, even if my concentration sometimes wanes a bit as games go on. Now that Bo1 has released, I am looking forward to being able to play a quick game on the move again.
As always, I welcome all feedback and will answer all questions I spot! Please let me know whether you’d like me to do some more Eldraine content or return to my basic draft concepts series next time, and ask me about anything I was unclear about and you’re not sure on. In the meantime, have a fantastic time drafting the new format, and may your games be sweet!
Find my previous articles here:
I offer in-person discord coaching! If you’re interested, please private message me/leave a comment on reddit or on the arenazone discord (linked below). Rates are negotiable.
A simplified hypergeometric calculator for magic mana bases, or you can find more complex ones (and guides for them) all over the internet.
Lola’s stream (a good friend of mine and fellow infinite drafter): www.twitch.tv/justlolaman and his ELD tier list (I worked with him on the M20 one and likely will again next set but am on hiatus for this one): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/13sruU0j41C1gB-AO_kxK1tjRtyb50bYC9WmQLNwruOI/edit
The MTG Arena Zone Discord: Engage with your favourite arenazone content creators there, myself included!
A short one this time but I’ll add to it, based on people’s questions!
Reach – The ability to finish games after your opponent has stabilised. Evasion is a classic form of reach – one can fly over a board stall and kill their opponents on a low life total very easily with a flying creature. Direct damage is also a classic form of reach, but one that doesn’t work quite so well in a format swarming with life gain, like this one.
Double colour cost cards – this refers to cards that have two mana symbols of a single colour in their cost and are hence, significantly harder to cast than single colour cost cards i.e. Bake into a Pie costs 2BB. I go very in depth on what colour costs mean for draft in my last article.
Bo1/Bo3 – Best of one/best of three, the two main draft game modes on MTG Arena. Paper magic is Bo3 exclusively.
2 for 1/Card advantage – A 2 for 1 is when you trade one of your cards for two of your opponents’ cards, like when you attack a 5/5 into a 2/2 and they cast giant growth on it and trade. Card advantage is very important in magic, and determines many games, but it isn’t the end all be all. In a format like this, there is huge amounts of it in the late game and your opponents will probably be able to catch back up if they are a deck designed to go longer than you are.