I love drafting. I love Magic’s history, its lore, its worlds, and its characters. It should come as no surprise that I love drafting lots of different formats.

I didn’t start drafting until 2010, so I had a lot of catching up to do. My return to the game was marked with not only triple Scars of Mirrodin Limited, but also triple Ravnica: City of Guilds, triple Lorwyn, a fun Stronghold-Exodus event, and yes, Homelands Limited (where Joven’s Ferrets ran rougshod over the competition and my double Ihsan’s Shade/Ebony Rhino deck ended up against Cemetery Gate every… single… match). I tasted many draft formats, some odder than others, but all sweet in their own ways. I wanted more.

Last year I vowed to draft every format in Magic. To keep things reasonable, I’d restrict my focus to full blocks (Stronghold-Stronghold-Exodus drafts wouldn’t cut it; I’d need Tempest in there and to add Morningtide to Lorwyn) and blocks designed to be drafted (so nothing before Mirage, when Limited was first considered in set design). This goal pushed me to both spend hundreds on eBay and use Magic Online (which has a throwback draft every couple of months). At present, I have drafted every full block format in Magic save two: Champions of Kamigawa and Shards of Alara (and I hope to cross both off by year’s end).

In Flashback Draft, I will revisit Limited of ages past. Formats which you won’t find at just any FNM. Formats which you may (fondly) remember or may never have played. This week, join me as we travel back in time… to the year 2000.

phyrexian portal

Fall 2000. We were about to celebrate the actual bimillennial (not that anyone cared). Eminem and Destiny’s Child topped the charts (not that I noticed). I was in middle school and had just begun a hiatus from Magic that would last ten years. I remember seeing the full spoiler for Invasion, freaking out about power creep, odd storyline decisions, and weird use of multicolor cards, and using that shock to validate my departure from Magic. Unfortunately for young Zach, he didn’t realize just how fun Invasion is!

Invasion was the first multicolor block (Legends was the first multicolor set, but Invasion was the first to use it as a theme and employ a consistent color pie so that a card having multiple colors meant something). Invasion block introduced kicker, split cards, and domain, as well as the unnamed gating and divvy mechanics. It was also considered to be the first excellent Limited format.

limited resources

In Invasion block draft, mana fixing is hard to come by but card advantage is not. Something like 25% of all cards provide a two-for-one. Just look at Urborg Uprising and Orim’s Thunder! Sure, I go down a card when I use Death Bomb (most recently reborn as Launch Party) to kill your Sea Snidd, but then I go up two cards when I Urborg Uprising two creatures back and draw a card! In addition, cards like Dream Thrush, Obsidian Acolyte, and Tidal Visionary had seemingly innocuous activated abilities that could be backbreaking: Dream Thrush could fix your mana, give you a higher domain count, or mana-screw your opponent. Obsidian Acolyte could blank all black removal spells and creatures. Tidal Visionary made your black removal spells work on black creatures and could turn on or off protection from whatever.

The format had a whole lot going on. It featured blowout spells like Probe and Illuminate that could flip who had card advantage in the blink of an eye and lead to epic turnabouts. It allowed powerful card combinations like Sawtooth Loon and Stormscape Battlemage that could take over the game. It rewarded players who were cognizant of every line of text on every creature on the battlefield. In other words, there were gifts for Timmy, Johnny, and Spike.

mana maze

The trick to drafting Invasion block is managing your colors. Invasion and Planeshift support allied color combinations. Sure, you’ll see enemy colors on cards like Thornscape ApprenticeSunscape Master, and Crosis’s Catacombs, but those cards are fundamentally ally colors. In the third set, Apocalypse, this flips, and all cards are enemy colored.

The easiest way to draft is to cut an allied color pair (WU, UB, BR, RG, and GW) hard in Invasion and Planeshift. Then, in Apocalypse, your two primary colors each share an enemy, so you’ll end up in a predictable wedge (one color and its two enemies—WUR, UBG, BRW, RGU, GWB). For example, if you take red-green cards in Invasion and Planeshift, you’ll be best-served by moving into blue and taking all of the blue-red and green-blue cards. If you instead moved into black, you’d be rewarded with black-green cards, but there would be nothing to pair your red with (while staying in only three colors).

Of course, you could just grab as much fixing as possible and go four- or five-color control. The other draft trick is to prioritize fixing very highly: there are plenty of X-for-one cards out there, but fixing is in short supply and good fixing is even rarer. Harrow is nuts in this format as it ramps, fixes, and increases domain. The allied tap-lands like Coastal Tower are good (much higher picks than Return to Ravnica guildgates). Outside of green and blue, fixing is particularly difficult to acquire, so pick it early if you want to cast your spells. Remember that fixing is harder to get than card advantage.


Last week, Twenty Sided Store featured Invasion block for its semimonthly ALT.MTG draft (also known as my favorite day of the month). I’d gotten a bit of practice last year on Magic Online, so I was one of the more prepared drafters (most had either never drafted Invasion or hadn’t since it was in Standard).

I drafted according to the principles I’ve mentioned: I went into blue early, taking a P1P1 Dream Thrush over Tribal Flames and Jade Leech (might not have been the correct pick, particularly since the next two packs also contained Tribal Flames). I received a second pick Salt Marsh, took a Tribal Flames third, and then received a slew of great blue cards. I dipped into all colors, but by the end of pack one, black was likely my support color.

In Planeshift, I opened Ertai, the Corrupted. Last year, he seemed way too slow to be any good… and then I got crushed by him when he countered all of my spells. So, I took him. Blue continued to flow, and I dipped into green for a late Primal Growth and a pair of Quirion Explorers. By the end of pack two, I was solidly in BUG and exactly where I wanted to be; I could take BG and GU cards in Apocalypse.

I slammed Anavolver as my first pick of Apocalypse… the volver cycle is insane! They’re monstrous creatures that can take over the game themselves (particularly if they have a blue kicker, which grants flying). I received plenty of enemy-colored goodies in this pack. In the end, I had to cut a bunch of sweet cards (#firstworldproblems) but felt pretty confident about the deck.

Invasion block draft

Creatures (14)
Reef Shaman
Cavern Harpy
Dream Thrush
Gaea’s Skyfolk
Quirion Explorer
Vodalian Zombie
Nightscape Battlemage
Tower Drake
Jungle Barrier
Ertai, the Corrupted
Savage Gorilla

Spells (9)
Consume Strength
Exotic Curse
Primal Growth
Temporal Spring
Æther Mutation
Lands (17)
Salt Marsh

Sideboard (21)
Divine Light
Stormscape Apprentice
Ceta Disciple
Barrin’s Unmaking
Sway of Illusion
Sleeping Potion
Living Airship
Sea Snidd
Bog Down
Maggot Carrier
Volcano Imp
Tribal Flames
Firebrand Ranger
Minotaur Tactician
Silver Drake
Irrigation Ditch

That draft was perhaps the most fun I’ve playing Limited all year. Anavolver, Probe, and Æther Mutation led to epic experiences. I abused Cavern Harpy with Jungle Barrier and Nightscape Battlemage, and combined Æther Mutation with Ertai, the Corrupted to lock my opponents out. I felt bad, but turned opponents’ lair lands into useless basics with Dream Thrush and Reef Shaman while turning on my Jilt‘s kicker (my deck had zero red-producing lands). The deck had so many lines of attack, so many different ways to play, so many ways to reward my being prepared, creative, and aware of the situation—and I loved every minute of it.

I went 10-0. I was undefeated in my draft pod, then played Bret and Sean, the finalists of the other draft pod (I’d even helped Sean build his five-color control deck that could routinely kick Urza’s Rage). My most exciting match would have to be round two, game two, against fellow Hipster Rich. Rich combined Goblin Trenches (an already nuts card) with Diversionary Tactics to build his own Opposition/Glare of Subdual. If I hadn’t raced his Armadillo Cloak (which was pretty bad against my all-bounce deck) and used Temporal Spring to bounce Diversionary Tactics before he was able to make enough goblins, he’d likely have been able to tap down my entire team for the rest of the game.


I apologize if my droning on about ancient draft strategies isn’t your thing. However, if so, I implore you to reconsider. I consider myself a skillful drafter because of how many Limited formats I’ve experienced. Sure, if you’re a master of Return to Ravnica block, you know how deceptively powerful Viashino Firstblade and Zhur-Taa Druid are. However, that knowledge isn’t going to be useful for Magic 2014 or Theros. It’s one thing to learn pick orders and archetypes in a particular Limited format and another thing when you recognize what’s important in the set before playing with or reading about it.

Players who’ve drafted Ravnica: City of Guilds recognized how much weaker Return to Ravnica fixing is (you’d play off-color bouncelands and signets, but you’d rarely/never play an off-color guildgate, keyrune, or cluestone). They noticed that there are fewer defensive X/4 creatures and more efficient ground beaters, so aggressive decks would be stronger than they were in RGD.

Players who’ve drafted Invasion block remember taking fixing early and have no qualms spending a first or second pick on a comes-into-play-tapped land, despite how boring they look compared to awesome spells. They’d recognize the weaker removal and card advantage options as signs that DGR block would be faster and less control-friendly than IPA block.


If you enjoyed Flashback Draft and would like to hear more about other older draft formats, please let me know! I’m very passionate about Limited, particularly formats I wasn’t around for the first time, and would be happy to make space in Drawing Live for more. In addition, I invite others with IPA experiences to share their knowledge and stories. Together, we can learn far more than any of us would alone.

Thanks for joining me in the past. See you next week, after GRAND PRIX LAS VEGAS!

—Zachary Barash


Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud cube owner and performer, improvising entire musicals every week with his team, Petting Zoo. Zach has an obsession with Indian food bordering on unhealthy.

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