Thursday, April 25, 2013

Considering Draft Strategies for Dragon's Maze

Drafting Ravnica—Guildpact—Dissension was awesome and there's no indication that Dragon's Maze—Gatecrash—Return to Ravnica won't be awesome too. Drafting the original RGD was also very hard and I'm sure DGR will be an intense challenge as well. Can we predict how it will play out or at least prepare ourselves to hit the ground running?

Let's start at the beginning…

Your first pack will be Dragon's Maze, which contains all ten guilds and exactly one guild gate (or better land) in each pack.

Your second pack will be Gatecrash, including Orzhov, Dimir, Simic, Gruul and Boros.

Your last pack will be Return to Ravnica, including Azorius, Izzet, Rakdos, Golgari and Selesnya.

You will usually draft three colors, and thus three overlapping guilds; Two will come from the second or third pack and one will come from the other. Before we go any further, let's take a very brief look at the ten three-color combinations.

Here are the 2xGTC combinations:

Boros/Orzhov + Rakdos
BRW will usually be a very aggressive combination thanks to unleash & battalion, backed up by lots of removal and a little extra reach in extort.

Orzhov/Dimir + Azorius
Esper will either be a controlling or a tempo combination. The former using extort & detain to slow the enemy down while you gain inevitability with evasive creatures and cipher. The latter using aggressive Orzhov cards and detain to start swinging early and keep swinging, supported by prolific evasion from Dimir.

Dimir/Simic + Golgari
BUG will usually be a midrange deck, looking to make big creatures via evolve and scavenge, preferably evasive creatures.

Simic/Gruul + Izzet
I'm thinking RUG will usually be an aggressive/tempo deck, looking to drop lots of early creatures, evolving and swinging every turn with bloodrush, then using Izzet's disruptive spells to close out the game.

Gruul/Boros + Selesnya
Naya is the swarm deck this time. You want to drop as many cheap guys as you can, swinging every turn the way battalion demands and bloodrush supports, and keeping your numbers up via populate. Actually, I don't expect much populate to happen, since you'd prefer the GW contingent to just be efficient creatures.

Here are the 2xRtR combinations:

Azorius/Izzet + Boros
This aggro deck will use efficient RW and WU creatures to start swinging often, using detain to keep blockers out of the way and battalion to maximize the attacks. Izzet will play support here much as above.

Izzet/Rakdos + Dimir
You've got some aggressive guys in unleash, some tricks and evasion in Izzet and a way to score extra value from connecting with your opponent thanks to cipher. Grixis might be a tricky archetype, despite the abundance of removal.

Rakdos/Golgari + Gruul
Rakdos and Gruul want to attack while Golgari is happy to make your early guys relevant in the mid- to late-game. You'll have more tricks than removal, but otherwise this is very Jund.

Golgari/Selesnya + Orzhov
GWB will usually be a controlling build where you slow the initial game down with disposable creatures, but slowly build up your army with populate, your creatures with scavenge, and your life total with extort. This sounds like an intensely mana hungry deck.

Selesnya/Azorius + Simic
Uhhh. Lots of middling dudes? I'm honestly not sure how these guilds go together. Probably Azorius+Simic and Selesnya+Simic are more likely, mostly ignoring the third guild. Sorry, Bant.

Which is a perfect lead-in to the caveat that I don't expect 6/6/6 mana bases to be very common (well, at least not very good). It seems entirely more likely that players will want to build a deck primarily around one guild, splashing a third color and thus two other guilds. More of a 7/7/4 mana base. And while I suspect it won't be feasible often, if you can manage to build a deck that's primarily a single color, splashing the other two, you'll likely be in good shape. A 10/4/4 mana base would let you splash two guilds and ignore the third with the possible exception of an expensive bomb.

My question is, would you rather be taking two guilds from the second pack—the pack being filtered by the player to your left—or the third—filtered by the player on your right. We ask that question because you will do best to settle on a plan before pack two.

The answer depends on signals. Generally, you are beholden to the player on your right because she chooses two-thirds of the cards you are passed, while the player on your left is beholden to you for the same reason. Optimally, you are drafting in harmony with both your neighbors, but if you must choose one to draft nicely with, you'd prefer it to be the player on your right because she's passing twice as many packs.

(For new drafters, by 'beholden' I just mean that the person passing you packs is taking the best cards for their deck and feeding you the best cards not in their deck. You want to read those signals so that you don't waste picks taking cards in her color only to be cut off from playable cards half-way in. If you're doing a good job sending signals to the player on your left, he will also go into other colors, helping you to get what you need for your deck in pack two.)

What is less obvious is whether it will be better to draft from two guilds or one when being passed from the player who's sending you signals or receiving yours. One argument is that your sender is more reliable and that you are more likely to get what you expect from her. A counterargument is that since you're grabbing from two different guilds anyhow, you're not concerned with your receiver's consistency.

Let's say I go with Rakdos/Golgari + Gruul (based on what I'm being passed from the player to my right). In pack two, I'm going to be picking up as many Gruul cards as I can and pack three will be all about Rakdos and/or Golgari. Since I want the player to my left to pass me red-green in pack two, I need to cut Gruul from him in pack one and pass him as much white and/or blue as I can. That will lead me to get about two packs of mostly Gruul and one pack split between Rakdos and Golgari, which corresponds to the 7/7/4 plan.

Alternately, if the player to my right passes me good Esper cards (because she's cutting Gruul), I'm aiming to get Orzhov and Dimir out of pack two and Azorius out of pack three. I want to cut WUB cards in pack one to get my recipient into red-green, so that he'll pass me back Orzhov and Dimir in pack two. In the last pack, I can focus on Azorius, which means I'll have a more even split of approximately one pack per guild. That sounds great, but I'm really not eager to play a 6/6/6 deck where I'm as likely to draw spells I can't cast as not.

If I respond to my sender's "I'm Gruul" signal by focusing on just Orzhov or Dimir instead of both, I'm more likely to see cards of that particular color pair come back in pack two and then can take either Azorius in pack three, or one of Selesnya and Golgari depending whether I leaned white or black (but either of those could conflict with my Gruul buddy's plans for a third color). Either way, I'm 2xCD and 1xDE which sounds like an 8/6/4 land split. Arguably better than 6/6/6.

It's worth noting that while the gold cards in each guild tend to be the strongest, there are a lot of mono-white and mono-blue cards I can take from the Azorius guild to supplement the wBu plan I'm in without the double dependency that a WU cost would present.

Finish the Maze

Based on that, I'm going to lean toward one of the GTC pairs over one of the RTR pairs as I start drafting DGR. I'll also be looking for opportunities to stick to just one color in pack one. If I can do that, my options are wider going forward, but I'm also well poised to take the two guilds that play with that color in the second pack, and end up with a 7/7/4 deck after the dust settles.

We won't know with any certainty which archetypes are best (either because of synergy or draft-order implications) until we get our hands dirty and draft for a couple weeks, but some of these combinations definitely sound better than others. Right now, the triple-aggressive combinations sound amazing, but they'll likely prove too clunky in three-color mana bases where the hit to speed and consistency will surely slow the average game down, giving control decks more time in the sun.

What kind of decks are you looking to run when the gold block shifts from rewarding two colors to three? What did I overlook or undervalue? Perhaps you reject the core assumption that DGR will lead to primarily three-color decks. If only there were some area where people could post their comments...


  1. Bant doesn't have any specific synergies like other combinations, but between the three guilds you have lots of beefy, efficient ground creatures, solid fliers, and tempo plays. It looks like more of a "midrange goodstuff" sort of deck, which may not be as exciting as something like BUG but looks like it can be quite solid.

    1. And now having played Bant at the prerelease I can confirm my predictions. I didn't have much in the way of tempo or disruption in my pool (Simic + Selesnya, no Azorius pack) but I did have an abundance of very efficient creatures to apply pressure with raw bulk. I look forward to trying these colors in draft where I can pick up some Azorius goodies as well to help clear paths for my bruisers and to shore up my air forces.

  2. You have a great point that for those single Guild-based decks, there's an advantage in choosing the Gatecrash guilds for signalling purposes.

    In my own review, I didn't focus so much on the Guilds; I treated Guilds as tools to weave synergies from rather than something that dictates what your deck should be like.

    But it's true the faster decks should focus on one Guild as a base to splash two other guilds into, and the faster and more focused on one Guild your deck intends to be, the more these signalling concerns become important.

    I'm sure these focused Guild decks that only splash a third color will be a big part of the environment. It's impossible to tell if Guild decks or even 3-color decks will be the mainstream, and will likely shift a lot as the environment evolves. Even in Shards of Alara that had 3-color fixing, people went for 4 and 5 color decks while fast 2-color aggro decks also evolved.

    At first I thought that the aggro strategies based on one Guild will be severely diluted. But there are going to be 10 available Guilds with 8 drafters. The drafter in the right spot will have a pack where s/he can just rake in all the gold cards of a particular Guild, especially if it's the type that's only good in a focused deck.

    Focused Guild decks will require a lot of signal reading. Also, another skill would be how to abort creatively when you find you're getting blocked, and adapt into a plan B for a multicolor synergy deck around some transguild theme. It looks like a really fun, deep set.