Heading to Nationals this weekend? Guest author Kaylee Mullins has some tips on refining your pick orders in draft.

By Kaylee Mullins

Dominaria draft is the most fun I’ve had in a draft format since I started playing Magic seriously back in Return to Ravnica block. It’s very skill intensive: draft can be hard to navigate and games pose many interesting questions. There are many individual card synergies and you must change your evaluation of cards during draft based on your current picks. Knowing when to change those evaluations can be important in filling gaps in your decks.

Here are the cards I’m most often seeing players misevaluate and where my ranking of them stands comparatively. First I cover the underrated cards and then the overrated ones.

Underrated Gems

Cyclops offers a 4/4 body for four mana, which are solid stats. When compared to Keldon Raider, the other common red four drop, you lose a useful rummage effect but gain an extra point of toughness and have a less intensive mana requirement. The extra toughness can be pretty significant with all the three-mana 3/2s running around, which makes Cyclops a much better blocker than Raider.

Another point that many people may not realize is that its downside is not a triggered ability; it’s static and only applies as long as the condition is met. This means that if your opponent blocks Cyclops with two 2/3s and you remove one of them then your Cyclops is back to being a 4/4. Thus it can be hard to profitably double-block Cyclops when you have open mana. Red-blue wizards especially has a lot of cheap tricks in that vein. Solid four drops are often hard to come by in this format too, and can be a very important point to curve out. As a result I’m often drafting Cyclops a lot higher than most people.

Chronicler is a card that I frequently see showing up sixth pick or later. Dominaria is a very grindy format where I’m often on the draw and looking to draft base-blue decks with multiple sources of card advantage. Chronicler is red’s best source of card advantage and is going to be buying back your best removal spell most of the time. In a pinch it can be played early to shut down any X/1s. In addition it’s also a wizard hitting important synergies with both Journeymages.

Yes, you’re undervaluing this vanilla 2/3. How, you say? Well, three-mana 2/3s are exactly what the defensive decks want to help shut down any early aggression and bridge to your mid-game grindy plans, and that’s a hard role to fill in blue. But the best aspect of this card is that it’s a Wizard. Yup, guaranteeing your Academy Journeymages can come down on turn four can be very significant. I love the grindy blue decks in this format and this is a card I’m generally happy playing two or three copies of.

This card is very similar to Tolarian Scholar: a cheap filler for blue to bridge to later game plans while also providing ramp for the many spells you’re looking to play. Casting Syncopate for x=1 with an Island and Arcanist can be very painful for your opponent to walk into. This is yet another Wizard providing you some crucial synergies.

I think most people have figured out this card is not great. A two-mana 3/1 is not where you want to be in this format; it just trades with all the cheap creatures. Sure, sometimes it can trade up; but when you’re staring down a bunch of saprolings or 1/3s or Fungal Infections you’re going to be very unhappy. That’s a very common situation for Knight to end up in.

So, where is Knight playable you ask? Well there’s two things I want to see if I’m considering her. First is Pegasus Courser—giving knight flying is the best way to avoid the pesky cheap ground blockers, and if your knight is trading with a flyer then you’re likely coming out ahead on the exchange. Second is Jousting Lance—turning her into a 5/1 first striker can be very daunting. Having either of those can upgrade knight to a mediocre playable. Tetsuko Umezawa is also a nice combo.

Haphazard Bombardment is hard to evaluate as a six-mana card that you can’t guarantee will have a good impact the turn you play it. The upside is that it’s a guaranteed three-for-one if it sticks. The downside is it can be a low impact play the turn you play it, and it’s generally bad when you’re behind. There aren’t many decks where I want to play a Bombardment, but in those few decks it can be a very nice source of card advantage. Generally if I’m lacking removal but have a good way to clog up the board then Bombardment is something I might consider playing.

At first glance a three-mana 2/1 seems horrible. Squee often shines in the grindy decks where he serves as a cheap chump blocker every turn, and is able to trade with some of the aggressive two and three drops that are often played. Having a recurring creature can be good with sacrifice outlets such as Vicious Offering and Whisper, Blood Liturgist, to say nothing of Siege-Gang Commander. And it’s a lot easier to turn on legendary sorceries or repeatable historic triggers with the famous goblin that always comes back.

A 2/3 that lets my opponent draw cards you say? How can this be good? First, it’s colorless so we can play it in any deck and being an artifact it plays off historic synergies. Second, it’s a 2/3 which are good stats on your 3-drop to either clog up the board because your opponent decided to go aggressive and play 2/2s, or it can trade with the many 3/2s in the format. Third, in the decks that want it the card draw is advantageous. When the cards you’re drawing are generally better than the opponent’s then the net draw is a plus for you. You can also choose points to not engage this in combat when you don’t want to give your opponent chances to draw out of a bad situation ensuring the symmetry stays tipped in your favor. This is a card I will pick highly in the grindy removal based decks, which is really where I want to be in this format anyway.

Overrated Stinkers

I’ve played a lot of this card in draft, and it keeps getting lower in my pick orders. Adventurous Impulse is generally bad in grindy decks. If you’re seeing 70% or more of your deck in a game, then digging two cards deeper is not that significant, and it can result in games where you have one less threat to deploy as you run out of resources. Times where this card can be good are when your creatures have significantly different power levels. Have a very mediocre deck with a single Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar? This card can be great digging towards your game-ending threat. Have a deck with a solid power curve and this isn’t really increasing your chances of finding a good card. I’m often fine playing one copy, but am rarely looking to play a second.

Equipment is nice. You get a card that sticks around and just makes your creatures better, right? Well, that’s not often the case. Short Sword has too little impact on your creatures. Generally only viable in super-aggressive decks because this won’t often make your creatures win combat, it often can just turn a blanked creature into a trade but doesn’t enable you to push through damage. Times where it can be good are with Valduk, Keeper of the Flame (see below) or if you’re aggressive enough and have historic synergies such as D’Avenant Trapper to play off of.

There’s not many decks in this format that want to play a five-drop mana rock. Sure it can act as fixing, but there are much better forms available. Additionally, it can ramp you but generally decks are wanting to ramp into turn five or six plays, not above that. Sure, getting to your kicker spells can be huge, but in this grindy format it’s not that hard to do. Having a card that does nothing can be the difference between a win and loss when you can see 70% or more of your deck in a lot of games. Lots of expensive kicker spells, and multiple splashes are places to consider Lotus, but overall it’s a waste of space in your deck.

Auras are generally bad in Limited because they’re setting you up to get two-for-oned with any sort of removal or bounce effect, and there’s a lot of those running around in this format. The number of times I’ve had opponents play Dub and keep it in after seeing multiple Blink of an Eye or Academy Journeymages is quite high. If you’re looking for options to make your creatures better I’d much rather be playing Jousting Lance. It’s essentially the same role, adding two power and first strike to a weaker creature to allow it to push through damage, but it sticks around.

The instinct is to view Ancient Animus as solid removal which green typically only gets in the form of fight cards or flying hate. Animus can be servicable in that role, but you have to possess enough large creatures to ensure that it’s going to be solid removal. If you and your opponent just end up with a bunch of 3/2s on the board, then your removal could quickly end up as a one-for-two when you find yourself having to remove a problem creature. Fight based removal is also the easiest to get blown out with: pump spells, removal, or bounce spells can turn the fight against you.

Animus starts to become reasonable when you’re hitting a certain threshold of 4/4 or better creatures (I’d prefer at least four) and have access to some with five or more power. Legends getting the extra +1/+1 counter can help push that number up too with Hallar, the Firefletcher having great synergies with it.

Again, we have a removal spell that can look good at face value but the condition on it can be very hampering. It’s one of the easiest spells to sniff out from your opponent. In a format where you’re generally wanting to curve out in the mid-game, playing a three drop and leaving up 1W tells your opponent you likely have either Reproach or Adamant Will. Reproach is fairly easy to play around when you can, and forcing your opponent to be mana inefficient in the early-mid game can put you ahead.

So, you read Valduk and think, “great, I just jam a bunch of equipment/auras on this and go to town!” Well, that’s not generally how it plays out. Often Valduk ends up just being a legendary 3/2, awkward if you took this over removal or some solid all-around card. Most people generally know not to over-value auras because you’re setting yourself up for bad trades. Sure, maybe you can find a turn to stick an aura and get an extra 3/1, but with Shivan Fire and Vicious Offerings running around Valduk can quickly turn into ashes.

Valduk is still a card I’ll take—setting up legendary sorceries like Jaya’s Immolating Inferno is good—and he makes me value equipment higher. But you need to pay attention to what tools your deck has available to take advantage of him. Short Sword is a card that goes up with Valduk (see above), but that’s a card I’m not generally looking to take. Jousting Lance is the key card you want to be playing anyway. As for finding auras that I want to play in my deck and that aren’t only good with Valduk? That’s very hard to do.

Time of Ice is a card I was initially higher on, but the more games I’ve played with this card the more situations it has been miserable. With grindy decks and lots of mana available, tapping down a couple creatures often doesn’t even guarantee much damage and your opponent simply recasts the cards. This is even worse as there’s a lot of value creatures with triggers or kicker attached to them—cards you actively don’t want to bounce. Time of Ice is best as a tempo spell in an aggressive deck where you want to push through damage and make your opponent’s turns awkward. Red-blue wizards is the deck that most wants this card, but even some builds of it aren’t able to take full advantage.

Memorials are in a tricky place. Early on they were very underdrafted—Memorial to Genius was often a third or fourth pick for me as I knew I was going to get enough playables and having your card advantage be on lands is very good. In this grindy format, trading in that tenth land for two cards is much better than having to spend a deck spot on Divination. However, as people have figured out how to draft the format better I’m finding myself with less playables. You’re having to stay more flexible deeper in the packs because everyone is doing that, resulting in cards you aren’t going to play. If I’m trying to scrape together a 22nd and 23rd card then I’m not as inclined to spend a pick on a land; I’d rather have a Divination in that spot. If you’re solidly in your colors value memorials higher; if you find yourself struggling to save a mediocre draft then look elsewhere.

Kaylee has been playing Magic since Return to Ravnica block. She was a level 2 judge for 4 years and is now playing Magic competitively with multiple GP & SCG Open day 2s. Her favorite format is limited. You can follow her on Twitter @Abydos1

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