Analyzing published Theros drafts, part 1

After elaborating on the theory in my last entry – together with a good measure of overdue rambling – I will now get a little closer to the praxis of Theros draft by analyzing published drafts (publishing my own drafts is in the works).

I’ll start with a draft by Kyle Boggemes on Blackborder, because it is in textform (with pictures), lending itself to a detailled analysis where you can easily follow my remarks. I’ll use the opportunity to say a lot of things which shed light on the general nature of Theros drafts, commenting on nearly every pick. When analyzing videos, I will be a lot more brief, since I cannot expect my readers to follow those draft videos while reading my text at the same time.

Kyle’s general approach is already more fitting for the environment than that shown in the newest published LSV draft videos (to be fair, those were recorded before Pro Tour Dublin, but then again, why aren’t there newer ones?) Unfortunately, he isn’t consistent enough with it.

Kyle correctly identifies his first pack as rather weak. I’m glad he doesn’t go for the immensely overrated Psychic Intrusion here, and I kinda agree with his choice of Nessian Courser. Note that I do not consider Lash of the Whip to be the next-best choice, but Akroan Crusader – actually I would have taken the Crusader, but that is a meatagame call: He is better in the decks where you really want him; but Courser is useful in a lot more deck types, and will always be strong. The other commons are all inferior to these choices, but Shipwreck Singer and Sentry of the Underworld deserve a mention: They have the highest power level of all cards in the pack, but Kyle does not consider them for good reasons (I assume). You do not want to splash in this format (if it were actually slow, you would; but it is emphatically not), so these picks are restricted to a specific 2-color combination and thus not too likely to finally make your deck. While splashing the Sentry is not completely out of the question, it is not that much more powerful than the Courser to justify taking it, and the Singer is practically unsplashable.  Note that it is actually thinkable to take the Singer and hope to be able to get into Dimir- the siren is certainly strong enough to tempt you – but right now, as slow decks are still overdrafted and fast decks underdrafted, this is the wrong way to go, especially with the Intrusion in the same pack luring a player behind you into the same colors. When this format will be more widely understood, and other drafters can be expected to look for faster decks and ignore the slow rare, the Singer might become the correct pick, but we’re far from that situation yet.

In pack two, Kyle boldly takes Firedrinker Satyr, and I’m impressed! I can actually not judge yet if the Satyr is really stronger than Deathbellow Raider, but the important thing is that Kyle goes for an aggressive critter in a pack with Observant Alseid and Dissolve (the counter shouldn’t even need to be mentioned here, but I’m certain many drafters would consider it). While this is not wrong, it’s somehow inconsistent. If you pick the Crusader in pack 1, then by all means go for the satyr or the minotaur here. If you started on the centaur, however, I feel the satyr cannot be the best choice, since you did not commit to the all-out aggro plan and have good options now to either stay with a high quality general purpose card (the nymph) or a strong 2-drop (the Raider). Kyle’s 2nd pick is by no means bad, but he isn’t exactly on an optimized strategy either.

3rd pick Titan’s Strength is easy and easily correct.

4th pick Nessian Courser, however, while a strong pick and no real mistake, is once again not strategically optimized. Yes, the Courser is a bit stronger than Spearpoint Oread, but not much, and taking the nymph would keep open Kyle’s options better, since he wouldn’t really commit to Green then yet. Another alternative is Sedge Scorpion, which is actually good in both fast and slow decks – 1-drops which are still relevant in later turns are just what you want! If you already had an Ordeal in your pool, the Scorpion might be the better pick here.

5th pick Minotaur Skullcleaver, then, might be a bit of a result of tunnel vison. I like Skullcleaver more than most, I guess, but Nimbus Naiad simply plays in another league and might be a sign that Blue is open (especially when side-by-side with Sea God’s Revenge). If Kyle’s last pick had been the Oread, taking the minotaur would have been outright wrong, since he would have no real reason to stay with the plan of GR vs UR then. Even with the 2 Coursers, his choice is still doubtful, with Green not being untouchable yet, and Red even less. If you want to commit to Gruul for metagame reasons, this pick is fine and has no competition, but an open-minded drafter has to go for the Naiad here.

6th pick Voyage’s End – correct from any point of view – underscores the missed chance to move into Blue.

7th pick Karametra’s Acolyte is correct, since it is the strongest card and on-color. Even if Kyle will not end up playing it (it is entirely possible to build a Gruul deck too fast to want it), he has to take it for signaling reasons. Also, the next-best choice, Baleful Eidolon, has no realistic chance to be more than a hatepick (and Acolyte is actually the better hatepick anyway).

Then, 8th pick Omenspeaker after Voyage’s End and (missed) Nimbus Naiad once again illustrates the value of staying open-minded. Very probably Kyle misses out on drafting a stronger deck including Blue, even though he takes the scryer here over Fade into Antiquity, which is flatout wrong if he feels he is already committed to Gruul (as he claimed and proved before).

Kyle’s 9th pick, Traveler’s Amulet without a comment, makes no sense at all. If you want to be aggressive GR, you have no use for it. If you consider audibling to Simic-based ramp, where the Amulet might have a place, Aqueous Form or Stymied Hopes still would serve your need better (not the least because of signalling). If you want to hatepick, there’s still that Sentry of the Underworld in the pack. The Amulet is the best pick in a vacuum, but 9th pick is a good step away from drafting in a vacuum.

10th pick Agent of Horizons is correct and once again showing that Simic was a good, but neglected option.

11th pick Benthic Giant actually seems like another statement to be willing to abandon Gruul, because if you plan on gong fast GR, Traveling Philosopher is the better hatepick. (Then again, I’m convinced Kyle simply drafted on autopilot during all later picks.)

There’s nothing important to say about the rest of pack 1, so let’s get to the next one:

Pick 1, Kyle once more demonstrates that he is not consistent in what he does. So, is he seriously exploring Blue or not? If yes, Vaporkin is the pick here, which is just a tad stronger than Leafcrown Dryad (solely on the principle that threats are better than answers). At least he should have mentioned it. Did he even realize that, at this time, he was much closer to Simic than Gruul, and might even still end up in Izzet? Note that my criticism so far was less about the picks themselves and more about Kyle’s overall draft approach.

That changes with the second pick from pack 2. Anger of the Gods is just horrible here! So, do we consider ourselves to be Gruul? Then the sweeper doesn’t fit our strategy at all, and while we might still include it in our deck due to its sheer power, there’s no way we want it over Nemesis of Mortals. That Kyle should have looked to go Simic at this time makes that pick even worse, of course. The final irony is that his bias for Gruul was because he wants to be aggressive, and now he takes a card which just doesn’t work with this approach! Even less sense makes it that Kyle believes his choice is between Anger of the Gods and Ill-Tempered Cyclops – WHAT?

All hopes I had for Kyle then go down with his next pick and his reasoning for it. So, he was on the fence between Blue and Red, okay – but then it’s Magma Jet over Prescient Chimera which decides things for him? The Jet was at first terribly overrated and now starts to become criminally underrated (being called „unplayable“ even!), but in the end it is somewhere of a toss-up between the two cards – certainly not a reason to decide for Red which should already have been behind in the race! But wait, it gets worse: There is a Coordinated Assault in the pack! Unless you’re really dedicated to a ramp strategy (which Kyle undoubtedly is not), that instant is simple the better card in any Gruul deck, and the better, the faster that deck is! That is the second gross mispick.

3rd pick Leafcrown Dryad then is fine. Even for Simic I value it higher than Horizon Chimera. For Gruul, Flamespeaker Adept is actually the closest contender, but as insane as that card can be in Boros or Izzet, it doesn’t shine as much in Gruul, even if Kyle already has one each of Magma Jet and Titan’s Strength.

And now for another gross mispick: 4th pick Vulpine Goliath does not belong in the same deck as Firedrinker Satyr as long as you have any influence on its focus. Actually, it only belongs in ramp decks (but shouldn’t be needed there most of the time, since there are so many better options), is barely tolerable in UG tempo, and unplayble in any really aggressive build. Kyle is not on the way towards ramp, and he has already a few cards working well with Two-Headed Cerberus. Even without the red card in this pack, Anvilwrought Raptor would have served him better.

I lose even more respect for Kyle at pick 5 when he groups together the Cerberus and Pheres-Band Centaurs as „random creatures“. He’s right about the Centaurs, of course, but a 3-drop which can take a game over on turn 4 and win at any time out of nowhere is not „random“ at all! His pick, Time to Feed, looks reasonable, though, simply because he needs that kind of effect. But then again, his deck is not at all well suited to use it: He neither intends to nor has the means to actually go big with his creatures. So, what is he going to do with Time to Feed – kill random 2/2s via Nessian Courser? That doesn’t look as exciting as trying to actively win the game. However, since it is true Kyle isn’t lacking 3-drops so far, and since he isn’t THAT big on synergies with the Cerberus, the removal is probably no bad choice, giving him more deckbuilding options.

Kyle’s 7th pick is the kind of pick that makes me ask why this draft has been accepted by the editor of that site. I, at least, wouldn’t want to feature a writer who isn’t honestly trying his best. Ashen Rider is not even a moneypick! Anvilwrought Raptor is a valuable option, and Prescient Chimera and Leonin Snarecaster are valid hatepicks. (I’d certainly grab the Raptor here.) By picking the Rider without comment Kyle Boggemes is deriding his readership.

8th pick Coordinated Assault is a clear case of undeserved luck. I don’t suppose that will happen very often once Theros has been drafted a while.

9th pick: Vaporkin still in showcases again what kind of chance was missed eschewing Blue. I’m not sure about Wild Celebrants here – Kyle already has a Demolish for his sideboard, which I consider superior, and even if I want a second artifact removal, I just take the second Demolish. Answers are about reliability, and R3 can be cast a lot more reliable than RR3, even though the additional 5/3 creature can lead to a nice blowout. Then again, if you plan to maindeck the Celebrants, this pick makes some sense. I wouldn’t, though. Instead, Prowler’s Helm seems like a nice sideboard option. If you prefer to hatepick instead, Gods Willing would be your choice, since this deck at least has the tools to deal with Vaporkin.

Among the later picks from that booster round, I just want to comment on pick 11: Taking Guardians of Meletis is silly. Kyle will never run them, so a hatepick would have been in order (probably Spellheart Chimera, but actually the Guardians are the worst choice besides Forest).

In the last booster round, it’s hard to argue with Ember Swallower as a 1st pick – but I’ll try: If Kyle were actually on course towards aggressive RG, Arena Athlete might be a better pick! Certainly, if drafting GR aggro goes perfectly according to plan, Arena Athlete is miles stronger in it. But then, things rarely go perfectly according to plan, and especially not this draft. Seeing what a hodgepodge Kyle’s drafted cards are so far, the Swallower is the only correct choice.

Pick 2: Lightning Strike is worse than many thought at first, but a lot better than some thought a little after. If the Ordeal in this pack was the red one, it would have to be taken over the Strike. As for the green one, there are possible decks where this would still be a better choice, but not many, and certainly not if you do not already have a Lightning Strike. Note that in some decks (ramp) an Ordeal would be no competition for the solid burn spell, no matter the color, but in the typical red Theros draft deck the red Ordeal trumps the Strike.

Pick 3: That I agree with Nessian Courser over Satyr Rambler here shows that Kyle’s initial plan has failed. Obviously, the Courser is the clearly stronger card, but if this deck were really aggressive, its quota of 3-drops would already have been fulfilled, while its quota of 2-drops is still sorely lacking. It’s too late to do something about that, though, because it’s not only the curve which is deficient, but also the necessary supporting cards, and there’s no hope of picking up enough of both during the rest of that booster round. If you are unable to cross a minimal threshold for archetype synergy, you just have to go for higher average card quality, so Nessian Courser it is.

Pick 4 is an example, though, of blindly giving up any deck focus. Yes, in a vacuum Voyaging Satyr is by far the strongest RG card in this pack. But it is so not what Kyle’s deck needs! Titan’s Strength would have been a clearly better choice, and Savage Surge undoubtedly the best.

5th pick Kyle notices his own error: Yes, this should have been Titan’s Strength instead of Nylea’s Disciple. Funny how he doesn’t even mention Voyaging Satyr this time!

6th pick: It’s nice and rare to see a Theros drafter pick up Bronze Sable because they realize that they need more 2-drops, but in this special case the card most likely to help Kyle’s deck would have been Portent of Betrayal.

7th pick & 8th pick: Kyle’s deck actually still needs playables fitting his deck better than Karametra’s Acolyte or Anger of the Gods, and this is what he picks up here with the second Bronze Sable and Pheres-Band Centaurs.

9th pick: So, the 2-drops have actually come, after all! Now, if we had a few Feral Invocation & Savage Surge to go with Titan’s Strength and Coordinated Assault, and maybe an Ordeal or two… but we don’t. Still, Satyr Rambler is obviously correct.

My last draft comment goes towards pick 13: Setessan Griffin over Fleshmad Steed is the wrong hatepick, simply because there is no dearth of high-end cards, but a drafter might actually still need the Steed to fill out his curve.

About deckbuilding: The sheer idiocy of secondpicking Anger of the Gods becomes painfully obvious when Kyle – correctly – leaves that card out of his deck. It makes sense to leave out Karametra’s Acolyte as well. It would also have made sense, though, to replace Voyaging Satyr with the second Bronze Sable, or even better with Agent of Horizons. Changing a Mountain to an Island for the Agent wouldn’t be strictly necessary, but is entirely possible.

Other than that, there’s not much to do. Kyle is right to be less than pleased with his concoction: It’s essentially a heap of creatures, although at least with a good curve, but without the necessary synergy to make it a real deck.

Concerning the games, there’s not much to say. I just want to highlight that Yoked Ox getting an Ordeal – doesn’t it remember you of those Kraken Hatchling + Goblin War Paint starts in Zendikar? It should! The real lesson here, though, is that in Theros draft, the first big play is likely to decide the game (as is color screw). This is not a forgiving environment for durdlers. (No wonder LSV is already back to cubedrafting in his ChannelFireball videos!)

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4 Gedanken zu „Analyzing published Theros drafts, part 1

  1. Zeromant sagt:

    Okay, es war gewiss nicht meine Absicht, die ganze Frontpage von MagicBlogs mit meinem neuesten Eintrag zu fluten – und ich weiß auch nicht, was ich falsch gemacht haben könnte; ich habe nur einen solchen Beitrag geschrieben!

    Ormus, Hilfe!

    • Zeromant sagt:

      Na gut, dass mein Kommentar zeitgleich ebenfalls bei allen diesen Artikeln angezeigt wird, beweist ja wohl, dass es nicht an mir liegt – puh! Trotzdem, das sieht schon doof aus…

      • Tigris sagt:

        Keine Angst das ist ein bekannter Bug der auftritt wenn du den Artikel mehrmals aktualisierst. Ormus wird das bei Gelegenheit bereinigen.

      • Ormus sagt:

        Keine Sorge, es liegt an mir – bzw. an einer internen Änderung von WordPress. Ich muss mal ein paar Stunden Zeit finden, den Bug zu jagen und beheben…

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