Lo, how Theros e’er blooming. It’s that special time of year! Visions of tofurducken circle around our heads as we decorate our collective Tree of Tales surrounded in the lovawkwardness of family.  The year-end holiday extravanganza (brought to you by Lexus) starts today, and for Magic players that often means time away from the game.

For us limited lovers, now’s the time when MODO starts offering alternate drafts and the Holiday Cube! These are the treats of December, the refuge from vacation downtime. A year ago I spent days after Christmas watching Jon Finkel stream storm combo in the powered MODO cube. I had just come off an insanely busy five months of constant work and it was the most perfectly relaxing and engaging thing ever. You could have offered me just about any enticement and I would have been like “no, I’m good.”

decemberist

Someone else is looking forward to December too.

The past week offered Innistrad drafts. I’ve been busy with work again, but I managed to fit one in. I kinda stumbled into a mediocre Spider Spawning deck with all the combo pieces and mill but only 12 playable creatures. Stumbled as in I got passed all the combo cards in row picks 5-8 of pack one. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Not join Innistrad queues? I was glad I chose a Swiss draft so I could savor the sweet combo with spiders, Gnaw to the Bone, Memory’s Journey, and Runic Repetition without actually having to win multiple matches.

spiders

I never saw creatures! This draft was painful. Anyone want a Runechanter’s Pike?

Indeed, I went 1-2, which was totally within the expected range of the deck due to the lack of creatures both to block with early and gain life with later. I did manage to pull off a punt of the month to lose my third match when Splinterfright milled off Memory’s Journey and Runic Repetition from the bottom of my library and of course lost the 1/3 shot to have Runic Repetition be the last card in my library.  I just forgot the trap points in the mechanics of the combo and stupidly didn’t attack my 8/8 Splinterfright into my opponent’s army of 3/5s and crap. I don’t know why I wasn’t attacking anyway. My life total was too much in play because my lack of creatures weakened Gnaw to the Bone, and Memory’s Journey was on the bottom of my library all game, but I should have forced my opponent to trade it off for half their board. Ah, the perils of drafting older formats!

But I’m here to talk about Theros. I’ve played at least forty drafts, between paper and online, and I feel comfortable with the format. It’s reached that stage of maturity for me, where I sit down for a draft and feel like I could build anything. I’ve played all the archetypes, know how I value the cards, and don’t have any strong desire to play a specific deck. Except black-based control, of course, because that’s the best ever.

Here’s my most recent paper draft, from FNM and Twenty Sided Store on November 22:

The Lion in Winter

Creatures (16)
Hopeful Eidolon
Leafcrown Dryad
Voyaging Satyr
Fleecemane Lion
Phalanx Leader
Leonin Snarecaster
Traveling Philosopher
Observant Alseid
Nessian Courser
Staunch-Hearted Warrior
Nylea’s Disciple
Nylea’s Emissary
Setessan Griffin
Nemesis of Mortals

Spells (7)
Time to Feed
Dauntless Onslaught
Chosen by Heliod
Gods Willing
Battlewise Valor
Feral Invocation
Lands (17)
Plains
Forest

Sideboard (9)
Artisan’s Sorrow
Silent Artisan
Setessan Battle Priest
Ephara’s Warden
Vanquish the Foul
Battlewise Valor
Leonin Snarecaster
Akroan Horse
Gift of Immortality

This deck ended up strong even though I was getting cut on both sides. The players on my immediate left and right both drafted white as a secondary color, and the player two to my right drafted green heavily. Finding an open archetype to draft is always important, across all limited formats, but sometimes you get a bunch of good cards despite knowing full well that a few others are taking your cards. It could be that the packs are full of certain colors, or your neighbors value cards differently, or someone opened an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion pack three and decided to force it despite all the signals and previous picks. The uncertainty of draft makes it exciting! Thinking on your feet will serve you well, if you know the format.

I ended up going 2-1 in matches, 5-2 in games, with this deck. My only losses were to the green player two to my right (some guy named Jason Chan, aka passer of Thoughtseize) in games two and three of round one, when he played Polukranos, World Eater on turn three both games.  Not much I can do about that. Indeed, I won game one of that match because I chose to use Time to Feed to fight my 4/4 Phalanx Leader with Pauly Walnuts after Jason tapped out to cast it. Sometimes 2-for-1-ing yourself is your best line available. Pauly Walnuts is a hell of a card.

That deck is straightforward, but it was a nice puzzle to work out and a different take on Green-White heroic. The buzz around Hipsters Central lately has been how to keep the fall set draft environment exciting once we get to this point after drafting for two months. I like solving puzzles and building decks on the fly from my random choices in draft or sealed, so I keep enjoying the format as long as the puzzles are interesting to solve (or not solve as the case may be). Sometimes, like the Green-White deck above, the puzzle is in working out how to build a strong functional deck despite the unpredictable actions of your neighboring drafters. Other times, it’s fun to try to do something a little different. Like the deck I drafted below:

bwr mess

Paul Cheon: “I think we’ve gone too deep.” LSV: “No, we need to go deeper.”

That deck is a hot mess. I don’t recommend trying it out unless you are ready to wander for hours in the fields of Asphodel. My main motivation was to justify raredrafting a Temple of Silence first pick of the draft, which I want to fill out my playset online. When I opened Chained to the Rocks and immediately got passed Hammer of Purphoros in pack two, and then the second Temple of Silence came around late as well, it was fate. Or the Triad, perhaps.

Unfortunately, I lost round one of an 8-4 against a Red-White heroic deck that played turn one Hopeful Eidolon into turn two Ordeal of Purphoros both games. It’s very difficult to beat that with a well-tuned draft deck. My little mostrosity had no hope. If I had done a Swiss draft, I could have explored how this sort of deck could actually work. I was hoping to play some grindy matches where I could sideboard in March of the Returned to go deep with Tymaret, or Triad of Fates to do some silly bouncing. And Hammer of Purphoros is the ultimate inevitability machine in the long game. There’s something to it. So there’s a challenge for everyone out there looking for new takes on Theros draft!

People who enjoyed going deep in Innistrad drafts this time of year in 2011 probably feel like Theros isn’t up to snuff in the alternate strategy arena. There is no insane combo deck using graveyard recursion in Theros like the Spider Spawning deck shown above from Innistrad. But there are various graveyard recursion shenanigans you can do in Theros. You can even replicate Memory’s Journey if you happen to open a Bow of Nylea. Remember the seventy-ninth ability on Bow? You know, the least-used one? It lets you put cards from your graveyard back into your library. Sure, you need a rare (and one of the best rares at that), but you can in fact loop through your deck forever with Bow plus multiple Commune with the Gods, gaining value from cards like Nemesis of Mortals and Pharika’s Mender. Fellow Hipsters Hugh and Monique have delved in this arena before.

More generally, Theros is a very deep format that rewards inventive deckbuilding and heavy sideboarding. Theros does not have as many “build around me uncommons” as were in Innistrad (Spider Spawning and Burning Vengeance are the best examples), but Theros has a TON of playable sideboard cards.

hunterhands

Get 99 free Rolexes for the low cost of six mana!!

In fact, I think fellow Hipster Hunter-Handed One Slaton might want to change the name of his column. In Theros, you want to draft 30 cards for your deck, not 23. Sure, you only play 23 (really 22-24) of them at a time, but you want to have four or five cards to swap out each match, depending on your opponent’s deck. This is why it is so important to find an open archetype. Ekeing out 24 playables won’t get you far unless those cards are super strong. My Green-White deck was just on the edge of viability in this regard.

Getting 30 playables out of 42 cards drafted is not easy, but that’s what it takes to have a strong 3-0 type deck in Theros. Try it out, and watch to see what happens this weekend at the Grand Prix in Toronto. I’ll be there, testing my Accumulated Knowledge of the sealed format.

As a Thanksgiving after-dinner digestive treat (Master of the Wild Hunt, natürlich!), here are some screenshots from recent MODO eight-person Theros sealed queues. These queues are a nice value, as they pay nine packs for 3-0, six packs for 2-1, and three packs for 1-2. Truly the silver lining to the recent MODO troubles that have killed big scheduled events.

First, here’s two builds for a deck with insane Green cards and some good Black or White options. Does it matter if you’re black or white?

theros sealed choice 1

– or –

theros sealed choice 2

I chose black, for three reasons. Have you ever bestowed Baleful Eidolon on Polukranos and then gone monstrous? That’s reason number one. Have you ever done that with Reaper of the Wilds on board? Scry me a river! That’s reason number two. How do you build a mana base that wants to play Voyaging Satyr on turn two and Wingsteed Rider on turn three? Isn’t that a lot of tension? That’s reason number three.

holy wr batman

Yes, I opened this sealed pool in an eight-person sealed pod. Yes, this is the best sealed pool I have ever opened anywhere. Ever. In any set. Even in my imagination when I opened a future Vintage Masters sealed pool with a Black Lotus in it. How does this deck lose? Remember when I said you can’t rely on a crazy Heroic deck in Theros sealed because you need too many specific cards to pull it together? Well, this deck is the exception that proves the rule. This deck is even more insanely powerful in sealed because people don’t build their decks to be able to beat decks like this. Because, as I said before, these decks are rare. And speaking of sideboards, look at all the options I have to slow down the deck and go bigger, against powerful Green strategies. Purphoros, God of the Forge (foil!), Divine Verdict, two Portent of Betrayal, Borderland Minotaur, Rage of Purphoros, Ray of Dissolution. There are a lot of options here. Plan A is to rush out of the gates, slap down an ordeal on turn two or three, and force the opponent to have answers. Then, depending on what they can do, you adjust for games two and (maybe, if you run bad) game three.

nylea sealed deck

And then there’s this. On the Hugh Kramer patented 1-10 sealed scale, I’d say this is a 7. Good, with some powerful synergies, but not insane. I did manage to win one game by playing turn four Karametra’s Acolyte, untap and play Arbor Colossus and Nylea, God of the Hunt on turn five. Thankfully, my opponent (who was playing aggressive Red) did not have Portent of Betrayal. I won that game.

Anyway, have a Happy Thanksgiving! If you are Canadian, have a Happy Day Before GP Toronto Weekend! See you soon, when I may have further Theros exploits to share after my trip to El Norte Ontario.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) 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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