Of Limited Interest – Your Complete Guide to Drafting M13

Written by Nina Illingworth on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited

“What are you waiting for? You’re faster than this.” – Morpheus, The Matrix

It started with a simple request. “Hey Nina, there’s a booster draft waiting to start and we’re stuck on seven; would you be a doll and be our eighth tonight?” It was an innocent enough question; our TO had 6 other paying customers, I worked for the shop hosting the draft and he knew that I’d played quite of bit of Magic “back in the day”. There was no way he could have known what would happen next.  I tried to decline of course. Like any recovering junkie I had a bag of ready-made excuses to bring out whenever the temptation to crack some more cellophane arose. “Sorry man, I need to clean my kitchen tonight and I don’t really have the $15 to spare.” Undaunted and blissfully unaware of my inner turmoil he pressed.

“That’s okay; we just need you to balance the table anyway. I’ll buy you in and you can drop after the first round. We really need an eighth okay?” I turned my head away from the 7 sets of puppy dog eyes and quivering lips that awaited my response but I already knew I was finished.

“Yeah, just let me grab a smoke first, it’s been a while since I’ve drafted.” To the best of my recollection that was more than 4 years and over a thousand drafts ago; time certainly does fly. You see I have a confession to make folks;

I’m addicted to booster drafting.

By this I mean to say that I enjoy drafting Magic so much that I will literally drop all of my other plans to sit down and draft if the opportunity presents itself. While obviously I prefer 8-man events I have to admit that I’ve sat around many, many tables with 3-5 other desperate junkies “chasing the Dragon”; or any other Mythic rare bomb really. Probably the ultimate proof however that I have a “drafting problem” is that if I like a set enough I’ll put aside my long standing personal feud with MtGO for weeks at a time, just to “scratch the itch” by grinding more drafts. This is no small feat ladies and gentlemen; the combination of an archaic computer, my crappy excuse for an internet connection and a program interface that appears to have been designed by vindictive drunken howler monkeys in the late 1970’s puts me on auto tilt.  In fact, MtGO remains, to this day, the only computer program to make me literally smash my keyboard like an angry German kid trying to play Unreal Tournament.

I’m telling you this now because I have another ugly confession to make; despite my massive addiction to drafting Magic, I actually hated AVR Limited so much that I basically stopped drafting. Over the past 3 months I’ve played in 4 sealed tournaments and drafted the set a mere 5 times, with most of the action revolving around Pre-Release weekend; before I knew how awful the set was in Limited. I won’t get into why I hated AVR so much here but suffice it to say the high variance, all or nothing aspect of Miracles, a legitimate lack of removal and an inability to build winning decks without green cards were all factors in my decision to skip the format entirely. In light of these facts I think you could safely say that I have been waiting for M13 Limited season “with bated breath” and based on the amount of bitching I’ve seen on my Twitter feed, I don’t think I’m alone. This Friday, the wait is finally over; M13 hits shelves worldwide on July 13th and brings with it the hope of a new, more dynamic and ultimately more enjoyable draft format than the monstrosity that was Avacyn Restored. In preparation I’ve literally spent the better part of the last 10 days poring over the M13 spoiler, talking about the various strengths/weaknesses of the new cards online and generally plotting out how to win games of Magic in the upcoming draft format.  Today, I’m going to share the result of these preparations with you gentle reader.

Hello my name is Nina Illingworth, welcome to my complete guide to drafting M13.

Before we get started on individual card reviews and pick rankings I’d like to take a moment to discuss some of the overall ideas, themes and observations that can be taken away from the completed M13 spoiler in terms of booster drafting.

Time Is on My Side: While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the format “ponderous”, after reviewing the spoiler and playing some Sealed matches I can confidently state that it’s significantly slower than Innistrad block or M12 drafts were. I’m not a scientist or anything but if I had to guess I’d say that M13 is at least a whole turn slower that it’s recent predecessors and honestly, that estimate may be generous to the aggro decks in the set. This is in part caused by a noticeable reduction in the average power and quality of the format’s 2 and 3 drop creatures, but, as you’ll see throughout this review, there are literally a whole slew of other environmental factors that contribute to “putting on the brakes” in M13 Limited. This “downshift” in speed will present problems for many drafters who began in the past year because it stresses mid-range, grind out play styles over the slavish addiction to mana curves and swarming strategies that have dominated recent Limited play. This isn’t to suggest that you can ignore your curve entirely in M13 but the days of snap picking a random 2 drop and shipping your pack with confidence are over. Good riddance I say! From an overall speed perspective I’d say the closest comparison for M13 is full Scars Block drafting; although the creatures are slightly better here and the removal is significantly worse.

Baby Got Back: One of the other major reasons that M13 has slowed down significantly compared to previous formats are the sheer number of solid, even amazing defensive creatures available at virtually every rarity level in the set. Whether it’s Guardians of Akrasa, Vedalken Entrancer, Wall of Fire, Deadly Recluse or my personal favorite Giant Scorpion you’ll find that every color has cheap, versatile defensive creatures that can muck up the ground well into the midgame. Not enough common “walls” for you? Fine, add Guardian Lions, Pillarfield Ox, Scroll Thief, Dutybound Dead and Sentinel Spider to the list. There’s even a 1 casting cost “wall” in blue (Kraken Hatchling) for the true miser mage in all of us!  I won’t bother to list all of the token makers you can chump block with or the various strong defensive uncommons and rares but as you can see from just the list of commons, it has never been easier, in recent memory, to find a quality defensive creature to hide behind than it is in M13.

Right Above It: This naturally brings me to my next point; when faced with a never ending supply of enemy walls cluttering the ground it behooves you to place an even higher premium on creatures with flying or some other form of evasion than normal. While there certainly are answers to flying weenies in the format (Fog Bank, both Spiders) there simply aren’t nearly as many answers as there are for groundpounding dorks and thus he who rules the skies will have significantly more control over his own attack phases than those who do not. This in turn means that even if you are unable to draft a significant number of flyers you absolutely must draft some cards that can interact with evasive enemy creatures because you can be assured that many of your opponents will take to the air here in M13. The simple truth is that you can never go wrong with flying in Limited Magic but here in M13 you almost need some form of evasion just to avoid “banging your head on some mad fucker’s wall.”

Sing For the Moment: Of course, one of the ways you can break through a defensive stalemate either on the ground or in the air is by taking advantage of the Exalted mechanic. Now before you get all silly on me let me make it clear that I’m not talking about building your deck around the Exalted mechanic. The truth is this would be a very bad idea both because it would make your deck highly vulnerable to spot removal and because other people will draft the good Exalted cards; even scraping the bottom of the barrel wouldn’t give you enough playables for a functioning deck. A more manageable strategy would be to draft a few otherwise useful creatures with Exalted and then use these cards to turn your measly 2-3 power critters into the kind of monster that can tear through a 4 toughness blocker and come back home to brag about it. The key here will be generating a 4 power attacker early enough to neutralize enemy walls and help pour on the beats; the perfect embodiment of this ideal is probably Servant of Nefarox but virtually any 3 power creature and a guy with Exalted will do in a pinch.

Positively 4th Street: For those of you seeking a more direct route towards ground dominance there’s always the option of leaning heavily on the format’s various 4 power beatsticks. While hardly numerous or spread equally across all 5 colors there are a few solid-to-excellent mid-range monsters that can tear through 4 toughness walls all by themselves and can even deal with pesky 5-6 toughness blockers with minimal augmentation.  Unfortunately these cards are almost all Green but that’s not as big of a disadvantage as it normally would be because the color is both very powerful and very deep here in M13.

Fool’s Gold: While I highly doubt this will be a real problem for experienced drafters, looking at the M13 spoiler and my own pick rankings I feel it’s important to remind newer players that just because you’re looking at a pack 1 pick 1 mythic rare doesn’t mean you should snap take it. There is a very large spread between the best and the worst mythic rare in this set and quite frankly a number of them don’t even merit top 5 consideration in a booster draft. This is probably caused almost entirely by the lack of the uniform Titan cycle and their replacement with a bunch of random monsters with wildly variant statlines, abilities and overall power.  If you want to win in M13 draft you’ll take “mythics” like Sublime Archangel and leave cards like Elderscale Wurm and Omniscience for weaker drafters who can’t get past the rarity symbol long enough to actually evaluate them.

Same Song and Dance: Aside from the above observations however I feel that M13 is very much a traditional core set and should be drafted accordingly. For example, there’s enough quality removal to ensure everyone at the table gets a few pieces if they prioritize it highly enough but not nearly so much that you can build a “machine gun” control deck that simply kills everything your opponent tries cast.  There will likely also be a heavy premium on flying creatures, mana fixing and to a lesser degree the Exalted trait; especially early in the format while everyone is struggling to learn proper pick orders during booster drafts. There are some absolutely disgusting bombs for which the environment provides very few answers (Jace, Memory Adept, Primordial Hydra) but no more so than most sets and at least most of them are rare or mythic rare this time.  One area where I feel savvy drafters can find value in the early going will be in the mid-range creature slots; in M12 4-5 casting cost creatures were often a liability so you might catch your opponents sleeping on them early while they over-draft nigh useless “bears” and 1 drops.

With these general concepts in mind let’s get to the real meat of the discussion; pick orders, tier rankings and card reviews for M13 booster drafts.

Before we dive right in however I think it’s important that we discuss the very nature of pick order lists in general; what they can help you with, what they can’t do for you and ultimately when you should discard these rankings completely. Despite my best efforts to the contrary these lists can’t account for every possible scenario in an 8-man M13 draft; there will be times when it is absolutely the correct play to pass a Welkin Tern for a Mind Sculpt. The key to remember here is that these situations will be few and far between and that the vast majority of the time the Tern will be worth considerably more than randomly milling 7 cards off the top of your opponent’s library. There’s a time and a place for virtually every card in this set (okay maybe not Omniscience) so it’s important for you to remain fluid in the face of an ever changing draft table and adjust your picks accordingly.

In order for you to get any value from the lists I’m about to share with you, we first need to discuss the method I used when creating them. In particular I should mention that when making these lists I started with the assumption that I was drafting the cards early enough in pack 1 to be open to every color/archetype in the format; in other words, my first 5-6 picks. This is important because it allowed me to weigh each card primarily on its own merits or flaws and helped provide a baseline for generating the most accurate ratings possible. Naturally, the downside to this system is that drafting is about more than assembling a strong pile of cards; synergy, archetype concerns and even personal style preferences can exert a tremendous amount of influence on the correct pick order during any given draft. I’ve done my best to compensate for this inherent paradox by noting when a card would be more or less effective based on the synergy it creates with other cards in your deck. Despite this there is truthfully only so much variance you can account for in this type of discussion; by nature the deeper into the draft you go the less accurate these ratings become, simply because choices you’ve already made will exert greater and greater influence over your subsequent selections. Put simply; these lists are a guideline to help you make stronger choices in your next M13 draft and are in no way meant to be some sort of “Bible” or a substitute for deductive reasoning.

Finally, I should explain that these lists are primarily sorted by color and commonality; as such they focus on grading and ranking cards against each other within their own colors and rarity levels. This is fine once you’ve already locked in your colors but it does very little to help you choose between two cards of different colors; say Oblivion Ring and Rancor for example. In order to mitigate this problem I’ve created a color-coded system to divide these lists into 5 basic “tiers” defined by overall power in the format. This allows you to quickly cross-reference cards of different colors, identify the exact point where they drop off in power and quickly plan your escape into more powerful options. Once again this system is hardly perfect but hopefully it will allow you to make better, more informed choices here in M13 and ultimately help lead towards stronger draft decks as a whole.  Let’s take a look at what each of these colors means:

Red: Cards marked in this color are “simply the best”.  The best monsters, the best removal spells and any card that will literally win you the game by itself can be found in this tier. These cards are your 1st picks, your bombs and your answers; if your opponent starts tilting as soon as you cast a spell you can pretty much guarantee that card will be marked in red on these lists. In short; these are excellent cards that I expect to help me win games virtually every time I cast them.

Blue: This color is reserved for cards that are “very, very good” but ultimately fall just short of being the game breaking monstrosities you’ll find marked in red. One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between these two tiers is that while you will always be happy to add a card marked in blue to your draft pile, you will rarely, if ever be thrilled about picking the same card first out of a pack.

Green: Green means good; these cards are not special, they are not even exceptional but they are quality building blocks for virtually any on-color deck in the format. You’ll rarely be WOWed by a card marked in green but you’ll always be happy to draft them if the price is right (4th-10th). In my experience one of the key differences between good and bad Limited decks is often the drafter’s ability to populate his build almost entirely with cards from this tier or higher. Don’t chase these cards around the table but feel free to soak up the sheer “value” they provide as your draft unfolds. Your deck will thank you for it.

Orange: Cards marked in orange are all about situational value; they can be surprisingly good or very bad depending on the context of the deck you are drafting or the game you are playing. These are often some of the hardest cards to evaluate properly in Limited formats and they frequently represent fatal “traps” for inexperienced drafters and those who live in “Magical Christmasland” full time. Tribal Lords, combo cards and sideboard “hosers” are all good examples of the kinds of cards you’ll find marked in orange on these lists.

Purple: This is the home of cards I consider sub-optimal, poor or otherwise undesirable in the context of Limited play. For a card to be marked in purple I have to genuinely want to avoid playing it in my main deck and only under extreme circumstances will I be willing to bring it in from the sideboard. Like a bruise; purple cards mar the beauty of otherwise functional decks and if you include too many of them in your build winning matches should become quite difficult.

Finally, as previously mentioned, a + sign next to the card title indicates a card whose value and thus appropriate pick ranking rises if you can build your deck around maximizing its effectiveness. Alternately, a – sign next to the card title denotes a card whose value is significantly lower without the necessary conditions to take advantage of it; think Flinthoof Boar in a deck with no Mountains.

With these basic guidelines in mind, let’s dive right into drafting M13 by color and commonality as I see it. Below you’ll find links for each of M13′s 5 colors and an additional link for Multi-colored, Artifact and Land cards.
White   Black   Red   Green   Blue   Multi/Artifacts/Lands

 

Conclusion:

Overall I’d have to say that I’m pretty happy with M13 as a booster draft format. Frankly, I was getting a little sick of drafts that revolved entirely around aggression, mana curving and flooding the board with Bears and Hill Giants. Naturally, after years and years of aggro being mostly irrelevant in draft I can legitimately understand why WotC would want to promote these strategies but like anything in life, constant repetition of even the most enjoyable action will eventually lead to boredom. I’m genuinely excited to get back to drafting mid-range and control cards now and as far as I can tell M13 isn’t going to punish me for building my decks this way. As far as color balance goes I think it’s safe to say that Green is the best color, Blue is probably the worst color (although it has some of the best individual cards) and the other three colors are all more or less the same. Regardless, there’s no truly unplayable color in the format and as a whole I expect M13 drafts to be exciting, dynamic, well balanced and incredibly fun.

Well folks, if you’ve read this far it’s probably a safe bet to say that your eyes are about as tired as my fingers were 5,000 words ago. It isn’t easy rating and ranking an entire set of 229 Magic cards and when you undertake the task it’s somewhat understood that you’re going to be writing for a very long time. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the fruits of my labor; my goal when writing this article was not only to help people draft better decks in M13 but to also present the material involved in an entertaining manner. A man by the name of Bill once wrote that “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. To be fair, I don’t really know what he meant by that but I think it speaks to man’s desire to perform and entertain before his fellow men. It might also be about cross-dressing actors and really slow white guy raps; Bill was kind of a weird guy. Regardless, thank you gentle reader for letting me share this stage with you and until next time always remember to keep it weird folks.

-nina
@cardboardwitch on Twitter

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