by Jeff Zandi
Apocalypse continues to rock the Magic limited environment two weeks after the pre-release events. The strategies for drafting this new set continue to evolve. Even though spoiler lists for this set began appearing on the Net more than a month ago, real knowledge of the set begins when people start actually playing with the cards. Since actual game play is the key, no one knows for sure what cards will be truly dominant in constructed decks, since the new cards will not be seen in most constructed tournaments until the new set becomes legal for Standard play in July. In the meantime, players are familiarizing themselves with the new cards in sealed deck tournaments and booster drafts. This set has literally turned the time-tested "art" of booster drafting upside down. This article explores the broad changes that Apocalypse is making to the limited environment. Next week, we will explore specific cards that especially good in the brave new world of drafting with Apocalypse.
Generally speaking, the thing that separates a good drafter and a less successful one is the ability to decide on a color or group of colors early in the draft and, more importantly, the ability to STICK to that color or group of colors throughout the draft. There are several reasons why this has been a good strategy for drafts. By sticking to the colors you draft at the beginning of the draft, you will tend to finish the draft with more cards that you will actually be able to play in your deck. Also, by letting good cards not in your colors go to the players around you in a booster draft, you increase the chances that good cards of your colors will come to you from the players around you the direction of draft reverses in the next pack of cards. Defensive drafting, or drafting really good cards that aren't in the colors that you have already been drafting usually hurts you more than it helps you. This is because at the end of the draft, your most powerful cards are now in more colors than is best. All other things being equal, a draft deck needing only two or three colors of mana will simply be more consistant than a deck needing four or five colors. Well, Invasion came along last fall and suddenly, players drafted five color decks with ease. Invasion allowed a player to draft a solid base of green cards that allowed him to play powerful cards of any or all of the other colors. However, draft strategies with Invasion and Planeshift usually came down to either drafting heavy green to support four or five color decks, or drafting tightly in two colors, or, at most, a splash of a third color.
Apocalypse has changed all that. With two weeks of drafting the new set behind us, the rules for drafting a good deck have already changed dramatically. In Invasion/Planeshift/Apocalypse drafts, pure two color decks are usually impossible. Simply put, Invasion and Planeshift reward you for playing allied colors by making allied colored cards the most powerful. Apocalypse rewards you for playing non friendly colors by making cards with opposing mana costs the most powerful. The big problem is that you just don't see enough good cards in just two colors, unless you practically ignore the third pack. Ignoring the awesome multi-color technology in Apocalypse will not help your two color deck. Thus, the powerful Invasion/Planeshift red/black, blue/white and even red/green draft decks have lost their power. It is also likely, too, that selecting your colors before the draft, a popular strategy among pro players, is also a thing of the past.
The best strategy in Invasion block boooster drafts may be to NOT have a strategy. A very prolific pro player recently shared what he learned in drafting with Apocalypse in side tournaments at Nationals last week. He said that early in the weekend, pro players were drafting all over the map. Some were trying to make red/black with just a splash of a third color work, others were drafting green/black, gambling that the powerful green and black cards of Apocalypse would fall their way. Obviously, it is very difficult to draft opposing colors well when the cards in the first two packs of the draft don't contain great cards for opposing color strategies. Later in the weekend, however, a new strategy emerged. The genius move, according to one highly successful draft player, is to grab cards from the Invasion pack that will help you remain flexible in choosing your strongest colors later in the draft. You still seek out the most powerful cards available to you with your first picks, obviously, but with the secondary plan of picking up cards that will help you play color combinations that include cards you won't see until the third pack, the Apocalypse pack. Suddenly, Fertile Ground is a very powerful card. Suddenly, Quirion Trailblazer doesn't suck! Quirion Elf? Pure freaking gold! By the time you are drafting your second pack, the Planeshift pack, you should certainly have figured out what one or two colors are the most important to your deck. Still, remain flexible by grabbing Lair lands in Planeshift to help you extend into color three or four without gambling like crazy. Gambling is playing colors three and four in your draft deck with a mana base that doesn't support it. Like having six or less sources for your one or two best colors, with three or less sources for each of your third or fourth colors. The Lair lands from Planeshift and the dual lands from Invasion will help you solve some of these problems. There are a large selection of cards in Apocalypse, as well as some others in Invasion and Planeshift, referred to as "mana smoothers". These cards let you change one color of mana to another. These cards are generally inferior to cards that directly create the colored mana you need for your deck. When you are finished drafting your Invasion and Planeshift packs, your deck-in-progress should consist of cards mostly falling in two colors, quite possibly with several great cards utilizing a third of fourth color. Most importantly, however, is that you have filled in your draft with cards that will help make this collection of different colored cards a viable deck. Having done this, you are now ready to take the greatest possible advantage of the wide array of seriously broken cards available in Apocalypse. You know, Spirit Monger, Prophetic Bolt, Consume Strength, Goblin Legionnaire and so on. Next week, we will focus on the best cards to draft in Apocalypse.