Battle for Zendikar draft season is in full swing. We saw some sweet limited matches and the consensus is in: synergy rules the format. Each color combination has unique interactions that power up the many situation cards in Battle for Zendikar. The set has been compared to Modern Masters, and this analogy has a lot of merit. Both sets offer a number of powerful archetypes, a few weaker combinations, and a catch-all green multicolor deck.  Neither encourages drafting good stuff. Or so we’re told.

I’ve struggled in my early drafts. Work kept me busy when the set first released, so by the time I dove in, people already knew what they were doing. I noticed it was hard to slot into a good archetype, and enough decks add extra colors that signals can be tricky to read. When I did get a good deck, I underperformed. Some of that is variance, but certainly not all of it. After scrubbing out of six straight 8-4 drafts online, I stopped to do some soul-searching.

The next day I hopped back in and drafted this deck:

Maybe I Should Draft Red?

Creatures (12)
Cliffside Lookout
Reckless Cohort
Kor Castigator
Serene Steward
Makindi Patrol
Lantern Scout
Belligerent Whiptail
Hero of Goma Fada
Kor Entanglers
Shatterskull Recruit
Angel of Renewal

Spells (10)
Unified Front
Stasis Snare
Rolling Thunder
Smite the Monstrous
Stonefury
Outnumber
Turn Against
Tandem Tactics
Angelic Gift
Lands (18)
Prairie Stream
Blighted Gorge
Sandstone Bridge
Mountain
Plains

Sideboard (17)
Boiling Earth
Sure Strike
Ulamog’s Despoiler
Roil Spout
Halimar Tidecaller
Incubator Drone
Murk Strider
Spell Shrivel
Anticipate
Wave-Wing Elemental
Oracle of Dust
Dispel
Roilmage’s Trick
Lavastep Raider
Reclaiming Vines

This draft was super weird and started out poorly. I took Stasis Snare and then a foil Prairie Stream, followed by Lantern Scout. After that, the packs dried up and I took some decent but not great blue and white cards.I had a sneaking feeling I wasn’t going to get there with blue-white, as the blue cards I saw were better in devoid decks than flier-awaken decks.

I saw some late red cards, but they were mediocre enough—stuff like Ondu Champion and Reckless Cohort—that I took it to mean the packs were deep in red rather than red being open to draft. I did pick up two Boiling Earths to end the pack, which is a nice sideboard card in case I ended up in red, though. I wanted to have some options.

Pack two revealed Serpentine Spike, Rolling Thunder, and Roil Spout. Thunder is the best card, surpassing the red rare, but Roil Spout is one of the best cards in a blue-white awaken deck. I tanked for a long time. I felt pretty sure my seat wasn’t good for the blue-white strategy, and my instinct suggested I should move into red. But after much consideration, I decided Roil Spout was worth staying the course.

scaldingTarn

Crack, fetch, take two!

And then I got passed another Rolling Thunder. That’s a sign, even with the rare missing, and I couldn’t turn it down twice. The rest of the draft gave me more removal than creatures, but Hero of Goma Fada and Kor Entanglers were key pickups. I sadly had to pass an Evolving Wilds in the middle of pack three because I needed more creatures. The Prairie Stream ended up letting me use two copies of Unified Front, and I ended up with a solid Ally deck.

Victory came my way for the first two rounds, but I lost in the finals to a Sultai ramp deck that played Oblivion Sower into Desolation Twin in all three games. The fact I won one of those speaks to the resilience of my deck. But I lost a game when my opponent exiled Hero of Goma Fada with Scour from Existence, disrupting my lifelink-vigilance-indestructible machine. In the third, I had to Turn Against a Drowner of Hope to chump Oblivion Sower, and of course Desolation Twin was right behind.

I could taste victory again, so I hopped in another queue. This time I wanted a deck with a little more top end. Lots of players online are experimenting with multicolor decks with powerful trumps, perhaps as the metagame shifts against the synergy decks. Like hinted in the opening, I’m skeptical that decks full of value cards are “bad” in Battle for Zendikar draft. I was hoping to find out!

throat

Sometimes you have to go after what you want.

My second draft started well enough. I first-picked Retreat to Emeria, but followed it with two Touch of the Void and Grip of Desolation. Grip is so so so good. Everyone talks about blowing up an awakened land for the full two-for-one, but that’s just gravy. Blowing up their best creature and least replacable land on turn six wins games. If I were to cast Grip of Desolation on turn six of every game I played, I’d be ecstatic and overflowing in virtual packs.

White was not open at all, but plenty of removal flowed my way, and I was well down the Rakdos control route when pack two opened up with a Sire of Stagnation. Sire reminds me of Perplexing Chimera in the way it ruins your opponent’s plans and induces weird plays. It is also a big body, so I was keen to take it. I hesitated for a bit, but I could not pass up the opportunity to go in on a sweet control deck with a powerful blue splash. I was immediately rewarded with Exert Influence. The mana fixing never came, and my creature suite was a bit thin, but the deck sure looked like a lot of fun to play:

Maybe I Should Splash Blue

Creatures (13)
Kalastria Healer
Nettle Drone
Malakir Familiar
Valakut Invoker
Valakut Predator
Belligerent Whiptail
Ondu Champion
Incubator Drone
Kalastria Nightwatch
Shatterskull Recruit
Sire of Stagnation

Spells (9)
Grip of Desolation
Touch of the Void
Stonefury
Rolling Thunder
Exert Influence
Clutch of Currents
Lands (18)
Mountain
Swamp
Island

Sideboard (20)
Outnumber
Stonefury
Retreat to Valakut
Molten Nursery
Demon’s Grasp
Mire’s Malice
Bloodbond Vampire
Hagra Sharpshooter
Geyserfield Stalker
Roilmage’s Trick
Brilliant Spectrum
Sheer Drop
Retreat to Emeria
Ondu Greathorn
Inspired Charge
Tajuru Stalwart
Pathway Arrows
Hedron Blade

I ended up cutting Bloodbond Vampire and Outnumber at the end, for Incubator Drone and Valakut Predator. All four cards are awkward in the deck, but I mostly wanted to avoid heavy black mana costs and play creatures I could trade off early. Maybe Hagra Sharpshooter is better than Valakut Predator in a control deck, but a 4/4 attacker can be useful from time to time while the expensive -1/-1 never seems worth it. As you can see, my sideboard was full of more removal spells. Maybe I should have played Pathway Arrows with the Malakir Familiar, but I didn’t think I needed to get cute to kill all the things.

The deck was ridiculous. I lost two games over the three rounds. In one, I drew almost all lands. In the other, I played some of the worst Magic of my life by making two spectacular mistakes. First, I cast Exert Influence for three and inexplicably chose to target Kalastria Nightwatch instead of Kor Entanglers. That’s like a negative three for one. And I still would have won that game, except the turn before I was sure to win I miscounted my attackers and made a suicide attack that only took my opponent to one life, leaving me dead on the swing back. Oops, I realized as my creatures turned sidewise.

I honestly have no idea how I could make two colossal blunders, except that sometimes I do stupid things. We all do. That was game one of the second round. Going to sideboard, I chatted to my opponent that I really screwed that one up. I don’t know what he thought, but I was determined to focus and win the rest of my games. That’s exactly what I did. Here’s the scene shortly before I won the final game of the third round to complete the 3-0:

sweetness

My opponent tried to deck me and failed.

That’s how you beat an Oblivion Sower! Overall I was very impressed with this style of deck. Really, Grip of Desolation is the key card. If you can trade early and survive to turn six, you jump massively ahead whenever you resolve Grip. Plus it answers every creature except Plated Crusher, giving you plenty of late-game advantage against the most powerful Eldrazi decks, as if blowing up a land didn’t already thwart their gameplan. All this deck needs is Coastal Discovery, but you take what you can get.

So what do you think. Has the value trained arrived a Zendikar Station?

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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