Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve done my best to draft Khans of Tarkir as often as possible. The format is fun, which makes each draft a reward in and of itself, and I want to be in competitive shape, which requires lots of practice. To be good at a format, one needs to know what is important and what is not. Accordingly, whenever a new format comes out, one makes assumptions about the format’s speed, the relative value of specific cards, and the viability of various synergies. Some of these assumptions will be correct. Many will be wrong. It’s equally valuable to know what works and what does not work, as well as why the speed/synergy/power of a format is the way that it is. These questions can only be answered one way: playtesting.

I’d like to present two almost diametrically opposite decks: an Abzan deck that I drafted the week of prerelease and a “Jeskai” deck that I drafted last week at Team Draft League. One of these decks I classified as being very good, the other quite bad. Both belied expectations.

Abzan Helmsmasher

Land (18)
Jungle Hollow

Creature (13)
Jeskai Student
Ainok Bond-Kin
Abzan Guide
Mardu Hordechief
Sagu Archer
War Behemoth
Kheru Dreadmaw
Zurgo Helmsmasher

Spell (9)
Cranial Archive
Abzan Charm
Kill Shot
Smite the Monstrous
Utter End
Death Frenzy
End Hostilities

This was one of my first Khans events and I was so excited to draft this deck! Abzan was clearing flowing for the entirety of the draft and I was just swimming in powerful removal spells. I added Cranial Archive to play full control (I could wrath the board and if I didn’t have board control, I’d wrath again, then repeat until I’d win) and Zurgo Helmsmasher as a splashed finisher (yes, one mountain is greedy, but I was playing such a long game I felt I could get away with it). I was confident that I had the best deck at the table.

I breezed through my first match, won the first game of my second match, and then things crumbled. In the second game, my first black source was twenty-three cards in and I lost with a hand full of black spells. In the subsequent game, I drew sixteen lands and died because I had found no creatures to follow a series of End Hostilities. My third round went no better and suddenly my amazing deck was 1-2. I was gobsmacked. How could I be so unlucky?

WUrg Mess

Land (19)
Sandsteppe Citadel
Wind-Scarred Crag

Creature (14)
Jeskai Student
Mystic of the Hidden Way
Watcher of the Roost
Efreet Weaponmaster
Snowhorn Rider
Mantis Rider
Scion of Glaciers
Sultai Flayer
Whirlwind Adept

Spell (7)
Defiant Strike
Dragon Grip
Jeskai Charm
Kill Shot
Smite the Monstrous
Sideboard (5)
Smite the Monstrous
Disdainful Stroke
Stubborn Denial
Blinding Spray

Last week, I proudly returned to Team Draft League. I was excited to once again play with some of the best and most fun players in New York City. I wanted to do my team proud and draft a fantastic deck. Instead, my draft fell apart.

I opened a fairly weak pack and took the best card, Mardu Charm. The following pack seemed exceptionally weak and I took Wind-Scarred Crag to keep my options open and help fix my potentially Mardu deck. A pick three Jeskai Charm amidst a dearth of Mardu cards made me shift gears and I felt rewarded by a pick four Efreet Weaponmaster and a pick five Jeskai Student. Then, Jeskai stopped flowing (there were neither creatures nor Prowess-triggering tricks). Sultai was open, particularly its green cards, but not heavy enough to force me to go in (plus, I knew the drafter to my left was likely in Sultai and I wasn’t ready to commit to Sultai just before pack two when said Sultai drafter would be passing to me).

In pack two, I was passed a Mantis Rider and rededicated myself to the Jeskai Way. Yet again, Jeskai disappeared and this time strong Temur cards were prevalent. Blue was clearly the correct color to commit to (Jeskai, Sultai, and Temur—the three blue clans—were most open), but which clan ought I to be drafting? I tried to stick to Jeskai, but there simply weren’t any creatures. I dipped into green for some quality creatures (and also to have somewhere near the bare minimum of creatures) and ended up with a deck short on playables, dangerously low on mana fixing, and low on power and interaction. In other words, I’d drafted a train wreck.

Fool's Demise

I hoped that I’d be able to win a match and knew that I would have to rely heavily on my teammates’ records for us to win. I played nineteen lands to shore up my awkward color base and to ensure I’d have enough mana to unmorph and cast my creatures as quickly as possible. As the matches started, it became clear that the opposing team had stronger decks and all the bombs (notably Wingmate Roc and Sarkhan Dragonspeaker). In addition, I learned that the packs’ color distribution was askew: there were enough cards for three Mardu drafters (who were scooping up all the red and white cards I wanted), one Temur drafter, one Sultai/Abzan drafter, and me in green Jeskai. It wasn’t that Jeskai was being cut hard—there just weren’t a lot of Jeskai (or Abzan) cards in the draft.

In the end, I got lucky in my matches, generally drawing my colors (not caring too much when I didn’t, since my most ambitious splashes could all be played for three colorless mana) and consistently having things to do with my mana as I flooded out (which my deck wanted to do). My opponents tended to have more trouble with their mana than I—either flooding out with nothing to do with the excess mana or missing a crucial third color (while I would surprisingly often have three colors on turn three, sometimes accompanied by a Mantis Rider). At the end of the draft, I was 3-0 and hadn’t lost a game.

Unexpected Results

This is bizarre. Why did my good Abzan deck perform so badly? Why did my bad four color deck perform so well?

The easiest thing to attribute this to is luck. I got lucky getting my colors online in the greedy four color deck and unlucky when I was screwed and flooded with Abzan. However, I’d like to disregard (but not discount) luck. Luck is a variable that we can’t control. Blaming bad luck or praising good luck doesn’t inform us of how to play differently; it only tells us to hope for good luck and I firmly doubt that professional Magic players are where they are because they’re really good at hoping.

So then, what do I think happened? I’d argue that I misunderstood some of the format and that my evaluations were a bit off. My good deck wasn’t quite as good as I thought it was and my bad deck wasn’t quite as terrible as it seemed so clearly to be. How so? Well, you’ll have to wait until next week for the analysis. Until then, I’d like to hear what you think. What do you believe about Khans Limited? How fast is it? What are the best commons? Which commons are unplayable? Do you believe that my second deck is nigh-unplayable and that I shouldn’t have won a match (particularly considering I was against skilled players)? Let me know in the comments below. And as always, thanks for reading.

—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 improviser, creating entire musicals from scratch every week. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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