Welcome back, draft lovers! I’ve spent my previous columns about Theros looking at card selection in draft and sealed. This week I’ll focus on playing some games and look at some interesting cards.

Last Friday I joined an eight-person draft pod for Friday Night Magic at Twenty Sided Store. The pod was stacked with solid drafters, including fellow Hipster Hugh “Grade 9” Kramer seated three to my right. I was excited to have a strong pod. Not only would I get to play some challenging games, I could read signals confidently and find an open deck to draft.

Green has proven to be a very strong color, with incredible depth at common. The only common green card you never play is Defend the Hearth. Green in Theros reminds me of M14, where so many commons are strong without many obvious first picks. That makes reading signals in green more difficult, but an eight-person Theros pod can support multiple green drafters.

The draft started off well for me, as I opened a Fleecemane Lion. I haven’t played much green-white in Theros, but I was happy to try the strategy if the cards came. At first they did, with my next picks of Voyaging Satyr, Observant Alseid, and Gods Willing providing a solid start.

Then I got passed a fifth pick Thassa’s Emissary. It’s hard to imagine a stronger signal to go into blue. Scroll Crab is one of the best uncommons in the set. It’s splashable at worst, but blue is a strong color and it sure didn’t look like the players to my right were interested. I’d passed an early Griptide, but otherwise hand’t passed much to put the drafters to my left in blue. In fact, I had shipped two early Lightning Strikes and some strong black cards, so I was probably safe in both directions. I picked up an Agent of Horizons and a few more blue cards that came my way, and then opened a Shipbreaker Kraken in pack two. The green really dried up in pack one, which told me it was being heavily drafted to my right and I’d need to find a different primary color. If the blue fits, wear it.

Deep in pack two I picked up Horizon Chimera, a card I absolutely love. As I’ve said before, lifegain is strong in this format, and an extra life (or more) a turn really helps midrange decks stabilize. Blue-green is very mid-rangy in Theros. I had one other interesting pick deep in pack two: Griptide or Temple of Mystery? I really wanted the Griptide, which is surely the stronger card. But the scry lands are deceptively good and I needed one for my playset. Call it a hedge, but I took the land.

The draft finished up with a couple interesting blue rares, Curse of the Swine and Bident of Thassa. After passing two Griptides (and never seeing any Voyage’s Ends), I really needed some removal. Curse doesn’t do a lot if you’re way behind on board, but it’s fantastic with fliers and can get you out of some difficult situations. It’s especially good agains the green decks I was sure to face, since all of their creatures are better than vanilla 2/2s. Bident is less impressive, but works well with fliers, Agent of Horizons, and other evasive threats. Here’s what I ended up with:

Boaring Old Blue Green

Creatures (15)
Sedge Scorpion
Voyaging Satyr
Omenspeaker
Nimbus Naiad
Nessian Courser
Burnished Hart
Agent of Horizons
Opaline Unicorn
Nylea’s Disciple
Thassa’s Emissary
Horizon Chimera
Prescient Chimera
Vulpine Goliath
Shipbreaker Kraken

Spells (8)
Bident of Thassa
Artisan’s Sorrow
Curse of the Swine
Nylea’s Presence
Triton Tactics
Dissolve
Stymied Hopes
Thassa’s Bounty
Lands (17)
Temple of Mystery
Island
Forest

Sideboard (18)
Annul
Gainsay
Coastline Chimera
Lost in a Labyrinth
Fate Foretold
Hunt the Hunter
Nylea’s Presence
Traveler’s Amulet
Unknown Shores
Fleecemane Lion
Observant Alseid
Gods Willing
Battlewise Hoplite
Scholar of Athreos
Shipwreck Singer
Viper’s Kiss
Wild Celebrants

We can build on this! It’s also notable that I picked up two very late Battlewise Hoplites. There’s no reason to splash white for those and the Lion, but it does mean nobody drafted blue-white heroic. Nice to know.

kraken

I, Garland, will knock you all down.

Round one I faced Garrett running red-black minotaurs. That deck can really curve out, and that’s exactly what Garrett did in game one. He played Tormented Hero, Arena Athlete, Minotaur Skullcleaver, Purphoros’s Emissary, and Magma Jet. I played Opaline Unicorn, Burnished Hart, and three lands. I did not win.

I promptly boarded out Bident and Thassa’s Bounty for Coastline Chimera and Lost in a Labyrinth. Theros draft is not exactly a fast format like Gatecrash or Zendikar. You want to have sideboard answers to strengthen aggro matchups, but you don’t have to warp your entire deck construction around interacting in the first three turns. The two cards I boarded in aren’t especially good cards, but at least they do something against a strong aggro curve, which Bident and Bounty do not.

Game two, the mana screw evened out, plus I had Stymied Hopes to shut down Garrett’s desperation Magma Jet digging for lands. I like the scry-Force Spike as an early defensive card in blue decks. It can be good to slow your opponent’s best draws, as they will likely tap out each turn, and the added scry can really set up your next turn as well. Omenspeaker is better, but I count Stymied Hopes as a two drop in this deck. Plus, playing it game one will make your opponent wary for the rest of the match, and it is easy to side out (perhaps for Gainsay or Annul). Anyway, Garrett kept missing land drops and turn six Shipbreaker Kraken led to turn eight win.

In the third game I kept a speculative hand of Islandx2, Forest, Temple of Mystery, Opaline Unicorn, Vulpine Goliath, and Shipbreaker Kraken. Not the best against an aggro deck, but I felt that if I could untap on turn five with the Unicorn in play, I’d be able to take control, and the scry land could help look for defense. When Garrett played turn one Akroan Crusader I was nervous, but he had no follow up and I gladly took one a turn. I drew and played a turn four Nylea’s Disciple, which is a fantastic card against aggro decks. That put me back to 21 life, with the Unicorn also in play. Garrett bestowed the Crusader with Baleful Eidolon, but that wasn’t much pressure. I was able to play the Kraken and then monstrify it. Even though he had Sip of Hemlock for the 10/10, the one hit was enough, and my follow-up Fox sealed the win.

swine

Hello, that sounds like a pig fainting!

Round two I faced Mike playing blue-red. Our match went to three games, and was truly fantastic. As the picture indicates, he had a bit of a pork overdose thanks to my curse, which helped me take down the match. Look at those lovable squealers! Forget bacon, that’s so last decade. I don’t eat my friends!

In the first game, I led with the powerhouse curve of Voyaging Satyr into the Coastline Chimera I boarded in round one for Bident of Thassa and forgot to switch back. Mike played turn three Thassa, God of the Sea into turn four Thassa’s Emissary. Danger! I snapped off Artisan’s Sorrow right away and plinked in for two damage. I would have preferred a faster clock given that Thassa skews a topdeck race in her controller’s favor, but I have counterspells and lifegain to delay the inevitability of unblockable attackers if it comes to that. On turn five, I had Kraken in hand, but Mike’s four open mana made me nervous. I wasn’t sure if he had counterspells or just Griptide (since I passed two). Kraken is so important that I decided to run out Nimbus Naiad instead. Bestow creatures are not great targets for bounce spells, so I figured he’d be inclined to counter it if he could. When he did not, I felt safer casting Kraken the next turn. There’s also benefit to waiting to cast Kraken until you have seven mana, so you threaten to immediately untap and monstrous it for eight mana, which can cause your opponent to panic and use spells prematurely.

Anyway, here’s how the end of game one played out. I attacked with Naiad, Chimera, and Satyr for four damage, dropping Mike to nine life, then played the Kraken. He played Minotaur Skullcleaver and swung for four, dropping me to 16. He passed with four mana up. I played my seventh land. I had Thassa’s Emissary and Curse of the Swine in hand. I considered bestowing Scroll Crab on the Naiad and then swinging for lethal, forcing him to choose to bounce either the Naiad or the Kraken, but I chose to keep my mana up, threatening monstrous, to force him to act. I declared attacks and he used Griptide on the Kraken, and took three from my fliers. Then I bestowed on the Naiad post-combat and passed. On his turn, he made the 2/2 minotaur unblockable, put a Dragon Mantle on it, and attacked. Then instead of pumping it with firebreathing, he cast two Titan’s Strengths to drop me to 8 life while scrying two cards to the bottom, then bounced my Naiad with Voyage’s End and passed. I redrew the Kraken and had access to eight mana. I swung with the Emissary and 1/5 Chimera, dropping him to two life and drawing an irrelevant card. My hand was Kraken, Naiad, random nonland card, and Curse of the Swine. He only had four red mana to pump his unblockable minotaur, but I didn’t want to take my chances on a pump spell, so instead of playing Kraken, I cursed his enchanted minotaur to leave him with a vanilla 2/2, then played the Naiad and passed. He drew and conceded.

I boarded in Annul and Gainsay, taking out Stymied Hopes and Dissolve, since those were cheaper and hit Thassa or her Emissary just fine. I also swapped the Bident back in and took out the 1/5 flier. Game two he led with Vaporkin. On my second turn I played my scry land tapped and passed with an Island up. He cast Thassa—and that was the fastest Annul ever cast. Even with that blowout, I was on the back foot as he pressured me with multiple two-power creatures. I flashed in Horizon Chimera end of turn instead of blocking a Vaporkin, so I could start gaining life back and try to race. I also cast Nylea’s Disciple, but his bounce kept me on my heels. Eventually I had to dig for answers, so I cast Thassa’s Bounty while gaining three life off the draw. I hit all lands, and I was unable to answer his minotaur that he’d bestowed with Naiad and Dragon Mantle. On to game three.

Game three developed into a similar board state, with my Horizon Chimera and Nylea’s Disciple against his three Vaporkin and a Deathbellow Raider. Eventually, I bestowed Naiad onto a 3/3 centaur to hold off his fliers. The board stalled and the game went into extra turns. On turn one, with life totals my five to his 11, I attacked my Horizon Chimera into his three untapped Vaporkin. He blocked with one, and took two trample damage (that card does everything!) to go to nine life. Then I played Vulpine Goliath. On turn three, I attacked with Fox and the 5/5 flier. He had a 2/2 minotaur and two Vaporkin. I didn’t want to die to a bunch of pump spells, so I had to force him to block. He took the six off the Fox, and chumped the 5/5 flier with one Vape, going to three life. I had no untapped creatures and was dead to any pump, but I had the perfect play. I cast Curse of the Swine for X=3, exiling his two remaining creatures and my bestowed 3/3. That left him with two 2/2s, and I got a 2/2 and the Naiad fell off untapped, giving me two blockers for his two attackers. Fox remained lethal. On turn four he swung with both 2/2s and I blocked and traded. Then on turn five I attacked with Fox for lethal.

What a match! I was exhausted at this point, so I snapped off the finals by drawing with Hugh. We didn’t even play it out. I agreed to take the loss in return for the FNM promo card. We thought it was Grisly Salvage, which is meh, but it ended up still being the October promo, Ghor-Clan Rampager! Mise.

Bonus Magic Online Content!

I’ve mostly been playing paper Magic lately, but this past week I got in a dozen Magic Online drafts. Before then, I had only played one draft online. It was a sweet one though, going deep on green devotion. I lost in the finals to minotaur aggro, but did some crazy stuff in round two:

devotion

The turn before that, I used double Nykthos activations to Time to Feed my opponent’s Prophet of Kruphix, then bounce his board using Sea God’s Revenge, including the Vulpine Goliath that got flashed in before the Prophet died. Good times!

However, once I headed back into the 8-4 queues, my luck wasn’t great. I played a lot of strong opponents who were able to turn my mistakes and mana problems into 0-1 drops. I did get to the second round with a strong blue-black deck. I first-picked Nighthowler pack one and Hero’s Downfall pack two. I thought I was getting cut off black from both directions in the first two packs, but in pack three I got shipped a Shipwreck Singer and the triplets of Gary.

ub merchant

I lost in round two to a red aggro deck. Game one was close, but my opponent revealed two lethal threats off my Disciple of Phenax. In game two, I kept a hand with three spells, four lands and then died on turn seven after drawing six more lands. So it goes.

I know that Lost in a Labyrinth is a weak card, but my deck was strong enough once it survives to the late game and I wanted a cheap way to slow aggro decks. It ended up enabling me to outrace a strong blue-white heroic deck in round one (albeit with a weak draw in the pictured game). Only costing one mana let me spend five to play Mogis’s Marauders and activate my defender. Cheap spells are good! Lost in a Labyrinth can also counter Vanquish the Foul, which I saw in my opponent’s hand off the Disciple (I made him discard Gift of Immortality instead) despite being very bad against my deck. That’s just random gravy, but a lot of little interactions can add up to a semi-useful card that might be what your deck needs.

cool match lost

After ten losing efforts, I made it back to the finals (which I gladly split) with this mediocre blue-white Heroic deck:

uw heroic

That deck really needs another good creature. I drafted the third Hopeful Eidolon over a second Observant Alseid, which was wrong. Eidolon is a better card, but it needs other bestow cards to reach full value. In this deck, those Eidolons don’t have much chance to get bigger once they fall off and become 1/1s. However, the third Eidolon ended up being the key to my round two win.

We played out a very grindy game, with my opponent on blue-black. I was pressuring him with a 6/6 vigilant Horizon Scholar when he used his Curse of the Swine to reduce my board to four 2/2 boars and an Observant Alseid. He had a Sealock Monster and Erebos’s Emissary. I had Ray of Dissolution in hand, and then I drew and played an unprotected 1/1 Phalanx Leader. He then bestowed his black emissary with the blue emissary and swung with it alone. He had one card in hand. I blocked with three boars, and he then discarded his last card, which was Erebos, God of the Dead! I Rayed the Thassa’s Emissary in response, shrinking his black emissary to a 5/5, and trading two boars for it. Next turn I drew a Hopeful Eidolon, bestowed it on my Phalanx Leader, and passed with three 3/3s. He made his octopus monstrous and swung for eight. It was lethal, so I blocked with all three. He left me with a boar and the Eidolon, then later bounced the boar to kill it.

At this point, if he had kept and played Erebos, I would have been easy to kill as my lifegain wouldn’t work and he had enough small creatures to overwhelm me. But instead, I drew running Ordeal of Heliods, put them both on my Eidolon, and gained a ton of life. He could block with Guardians of Meletis and my Eidolon only got up to 5/5, but eventually I drew Aqueous Form and that sealed the win. What a crazy and complex format!

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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