Fully Understanding GRN Drafts
After a month of drafting, Toffel gives you the ultimate insight into Guilds of Ravnica drafts and how he's managed a 66% win rate in competitive MTGO drafts.
Last time I discussed the value of having a plan while drafting, that it's more important to have an educated goal than it is to draft a specific guild or strategy. This was due my experience that all the guilds felt playable and somewhat even in power level.
I've since changed my mind, after more experience and analyzing my personal data. Blue decks are significantly stronger. And I don't mean a little - I am talking about more than 10% better. Yes, you read correctly. My win percentage was 10% higher with blue decks than with all other non-blue decks. That's enormous.
Blue is Broken
So why is that? Are the cards just better? Is the format so slow that card draw has a huge impact? Is countering spells relevant? Why blue?
The answer is fairly simple: you just don't screw and flood that often. Magic is a game of high variance and reducing the variance leads to less games where we don't do anything relevant. I mean those games where we draw too many or too few lands and there was never really a game in the first place. Both blue guild mechanics, Jump-Start and Surveil, play into this.
I am still stunned by Surveil. Cards with Surveil are so much better and a lot of the cards are playable even without the Surveil on them. I've sideboarded Diminish and I've played Lich's Caress. They aren't the best cards ever but adding Surveil to them is leagues better. And on top of that, Surveil gets much better the more Surveil (or jump start) cards you get. Ideally, I just never stop drawing good cards, since all of them fix my draw step. It is like I'm paying for lower variance with slightly weaker cards, but the cards are still very playable.
While Jump-Start is not exactly the same, it still ends up with the same effect. It can't really prevent you from drawing too few lands, but it is excellent to make your excess lands count. Jump-Start cards are much weaker, but they're still worth it because they provide an effect where there normally isn't one.
Both abilities are great on their own and they get much better together. Surveilling cards into the graveyard provides a shortcut to the juicy part of your jump-starters without casting them in the first place. This is where Surveil is so much better than scry. Sometimes the combination of those abilities makes me so picky on which cards I want to draw that I end up decking quite quickly. This is where very potent late game cards or Devious Cover-Up comes in handy.
But that's not all. In addition to all of that, you have the best cards to build around. Thoughtbound Phantasm, Disinformation Campaign, Whispering Snitch, and Dimir Spybug are nothing short of being a spoiler in Dimir decks while Wee Dragonauts and Piston-Fist Cyclops are a beating. Decks containing multiple copies of those cards overperformed and are in league all their own.
But wait, there's even more then that! It starts to feel like one of those commercials where there is upside after upside. Playing so many filtering cards also allows you to play very strong cards in other colors, even if they cost multiple of the splash colors. You can easily play 3-5 Guildgates and abuse Surveil to look for those colors while neglecting to draw the splashed cards if we can't cast them. But even if you do draw them, you can just pitch them into our jump start cards. I've splashed Crackling Drake, Trostani Discordant, and even Niv-Mizzet, Parun and found the decision to be absolutely correct. This is something completely new and you should be aware of it while drafting. I love picking up Radical Idea early in the draft since it allows me to do these silly things.
An Arena Side Note
I have started playing MTG Arena in the last week and although I never wanted to start it in the first place, it was great. I love how fast the gameplay is. One, very dangerous, observation was that the draft bots are not very well adjusted. Cards like Disinformation Campaign are highly underrated and go as late as 8th pick in the first booster. While it might be their strategy to give people access to more powerful decks (this is fair after all, because every player gets the same bots), it is certainly nothing close to a real draft. You can actually force Dimir all the time and end up in a decent deck. This is probably the reason why everyone is either Dimir or Boros in the winner's bracket. And I do mean: EVERYONE.
This seems unfair and honestly it just is. I want to draft a blue deck and I would go that far, that I am disappointed if my seat does not allow that. But we can't draft a blue deck every time. There is still a barrier, where your second-hand blue cards are a worse option than some of the other guilds.
Unfortunately, you can't always play blue and we have to make those times count, since somebody else is playing blue even if you aren't. The question, therefore, is how do we fight something so powerful?
One option would be to more powerful, but that would include getting multiple spoiler cards in our colors and that usually doesn't happen. We also, in this scenario, end up playing a dangerous game because one (additional) advantage of the Grixis decks is that their answers are very generic and accessible. There are so many very playable catch-all cards like Sinister Sabotage, Thought Erasure, Deadly Visit and Capture Sphere that those bombs aren't always reliable. I've seen the most spoilerful Golgari-decks fall to a chain of common and uncommons.
Since we can't really fight a long game, we have to make the game as short as possible. This is, and I want to make that very clear, the only possible reliable option. We need to play as curvy as possible, meaning at least half our deck should be one or two mana and should play very few cards over four mana. This counts for Boros, Selesnya and Golgari. The one thing those blue decks are very bad at is defending against multiple creatures.
We need to flood the board quickly and protect our advantage with cheap interactive spells. That includes playing cards like Hunted Witness, Maniacal Rage and Might of the Masses and not cards like Generous Stray, Loxodon Restorer, or even Siege Wurm. I will go as far as saying that Centaur Peacemaker is not just a bad card that is only good as a sideboard tech against Boros, it is a full-on trap that lures people into thinking that a three mana 3/3 is acceptable. If you are not sure, go cheaper.
Right now, I think that those decks should aim for 16 lands and should target other decks in their sideboard. I like to have Siege Wurm in my sideboard since it's good against other green decks. To be fair, sometimes we have to play Siege Wurm and it is not that horrendous if the rest of our deck is cheap.
A Small Disclaimer
This metagame evaluation is based on very competitive drafts, like the competitive draft leagues on magic online. Drafting Grixis decks like this is always good, no matter which environment you're drafting in, but adjustments in other colors can target these strategies and beat down opponents who don't build their decks thoughtfully.
Here's some general advice: always be aware of your opponents' skill.
That's it for today. Next time will be my pro tour article, hopefully explaining how I won the tournament. :)
Thanks for reading,
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.