A Draft Guide for Theros Limited: Part 1

favored Seth Manfield

As this is my first article as a weekly writer for DeckFactory I am going to provide a brief description of my magic career and accomplishments, for those of you who are unfamiliar with me, I am Seth Manfield, and I have been playing Magic competitively for more than 10 years. I always like to travel to Grand Prix’s when possible, and have managed to win two, the first being GP Daytona Beach in 2007 (Lorwyn limited) and the second was earlier this year at GP Kansas City. My first Pro Tour was Pro Tour Geneva in 2007, and I have been to a handful of Pro Tours since then, with my best performance being at Worlds 2008 in Memphis where I finished in 13th place. I also won the “Win Gold Championship” in Memphis which made Worlds 2008 especially profitable!

After not playing too much over the past couple of years, because of my focus on school, I recently graduated this summer, and have made Magic more of a priority in my life. I have always wanted to “get on the train” which essentially means I want to be a Gold Level Pro which would qualify me for all the Pro Tours in a given year. I decided my best opportunity to get back into competitive Magic was to attend as many GP’s as I could at the start of the 2013-14 Magic season. I have been fortunate enough to not only finish in the top 32 of GP of Houston, but I won GP Kansas City (Modern). These accomplishments have not come without extensive practice on Magic Online, and I am actually one of 16 people qualified for the MOCS championship to be held in 2014. By listing my accomplishments I in no way mean to brag about having done well at this game (though I can see how it could be perceived that way). It is my hope that those reading my articles are able to respect my opinions, and find the information I provide useful.

I would like to move on to talking about Theros limited, and Theros draft archetypes. As a player preparing for major upcoming tournaments like Grand Prix Oklahoma City, and Pro Tour Theros, there is a lot to understand about the Theros limited, and very little time to do it in. I find that at a tournament like a Grand Prix many players can use their basic understanding of what cards are inherently strong, along with the amount of payables in each color, to build a solid sealed deck. What this means is that at a tournament like Grand Prix Oklahoma City there will be many players who make the cut for the second day, with very little knowledge of what to draft on Day 2. I am going to provide an outline which identifies which cards work best in specific draft archetypes/color combinations.

This is an outline that I believe anyone interested in drafting Theros will find quite useful. I will not be talking about cards like quality removal spells,  the cycle of Nymphs (the common bestow guys), the emissary cycle(uncommon bestow guys) or rare bombs that will be high picks regardless of what archetype/color combination you are drafting, because these cards are relatively self- explanatory. I’m not a big fan of pick orders based on color for limited, because the value of a card can change very easily based on the deck being drafted. Today I will be talking about the non-allied color combinations for draft, or in other words the Gatecrash guilds, and next week I will finish my outline with the allied color combinations.

Red- White:

Strategy: I expect red-white to be the most popular color combination in Theros. Think back to Boros in RTR block draft, red white is an aggressive color combination, with small cheap-costing creatures that rely on a variety of combat tricks. Theros is very similar, and of course the heroic creatures are exactly what you want to be focusing on. A good Red-White deck will usually be 16 lands, because the mana curve is low, which means picking up two more playables than many of the other archetypes.

Cards to prioritize: Favored Hoplite, Phalanx Leader, Akroan Crusader, Wingsteed Rider, and Arena Athlete along with Anax the Cymede, and Fabled Hero are the heroic creatures to look for. While traditionally 1/1’s for 1 are not good in limited, cards like Favored Hoplite and Akroan Crusader will come around late, and love to be targeted by combat tricks or enchantments. Combat tricks that target multiple creatures like Dauntless Onslaught and Coordinated Assault are at their best in heroic decks, and the same goes for enchantments that cantrip, like Dragon Mantle and Chosen by Heliod.  I will briefly mention Chained to Rocks, and Akroan Hoplite, while these cards are both very good, they obviously can’t go into other archetypes. Some other aggressive creatures to look out for include Two-Headed Cerburus, Minotour Skullcleaver, Flamespeaker Adept, Deathbellow Raider, Leonin Snarecaster, Satyr Rambler and Cavalry Pegasus. Some other combat tricks include Battlewise Valor, Gods Willing, and Titan’s Strength.

What to stay away from: Expensive cards in general are not good here. This means cards like Vanquish the Foul, Silent Artisan and Boulderfall. I am also not a fan of Last Breath, because the 4 life is very relevant, or Anger of the Gods since you will be playing creatures before turn 3. The only heroic guy I don’t like are Setessan Battle Priest because a 1/3 body isn’t good enough for 2, and the heroic effect is basically irrelevant.

White-Black

Strategy: In limited Black-White is a color combination that often leads to midrange decks, but with that an aggressive black-white deck can be drafted. Midrange decks can be difficult to draft, and I expect black-white not to be a particularly popular color combination. One of the advantages here is there is a fairly large pool of removal spells to choose from, as compared to other archetypes. While black-white has the option of taking heroic guys, I think that being more black based with devotion creatures allows for a bigger punch in the late game.

Cards to Prioritize: Having an answer to opposing threats is key here, so any type of removal is good. This means cards like Vanquish the Foul and Last Breath are quite good, and removal in Theros now includes enchantment removal like Ray of Dissolution. A card like Scholar of Athroes is exactly what a midrange deck wants. The 1/4 body is good early, and the life drain is devastating late, and of course Black-White is the only archetype that wants this guy. The decks with a heavy investment in black want to get their hands on creatures like Disciple of Phenax, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Mogis’s Marauder. Other cards at their best in midrange strategies include Read the Bones, Insatiable Harpy, Ephara’s Warden, Baleful Eidolon and Hopeful Eidolon.

What to stay away from: It is easy to end up with a large number of two mana 2/2’s with no abilities, so while black-white does want a couple of two drops at least, try to stay away from cards like Fleshmad Steed. Cantrip enchantments like Scourgemark and Chosen by Heliod don’t make enough of an impact. This deck doesn’t care as much about evasion creatures like Cavalry Pegasus, whose only application is attacking.

Blue-Black

Strategy: Blue-black has traditionally been the color combination associated with control in limited. In Theros I want my blue-black decks to be aggro-control, meaning the deck has the ability to put a clock on the opponent. These decks will likely win in the air with fliers, while holding off opposing creatures with a combination of bounce spells, counters, and removal.

Cards to Prioritize: Flying creatures like Coastline Chimera, Prescient Chimera, Vaporkin, Insatiable Harpy and Blood-Toll Harpy are all good here. Returned to Phalanx and Baleful Eidolon are both great two drops which can hold their ground, and attack as needed. Counters like Annul and Dissolve are good in any type of control deck, and the more instants in the deck the better Mnemonic Wall becomes. Cards on the ground with high toughness are very important in decks that plan on winning in the air, which means a card like Wavecrash Triton can become an all-star, even with only a couple ways to trigger heroic on him. The devotion to black guys do solid work here and of course stuff like Shipwreck Stinger is great. I am a huge fan of bounce in Theros which means that I am very happy with both Griptide and Voyage’s End in any blue deck.

What to stay away from: You don’t want to play a card because it Scry’s, the Scry should be a bonus, which means I would stay away from stuff like Lost in Labryinth. Like black-white, the cantrip enchantments are unexciting unless you have a couple heroic guys. I don’t like situational cards like Stymied Hopes.

A card I want to talk about briefly here is Thassa’s Bounty. I’m not saying this card is bad or not to play it, but you have to be very careful about playing six mana spells that don’t impact the board, so I would definitely stay away from multiples. While this is a card that is actually at its best in blue-black, its best isn’t that great, this card is much more useful in sealed.

Blue-Green

Strategy: Blue- green is a tempo based strategy that relies on high quality creatures, plus bounce spells to beat the opponent. Against aggressive decks the creatures tend to be larger here, and blue-green has access to evasive creatures which provide inevitability against the slower decks. A good blue-green deck needs to put an emphasis on two drops.

Cards to Prioritize: it is hard to imagine a blue-green deck without some number of Agent of Horizons. A 3/2 for 3 is already solid, and when you tack on the ability to become unblockable the agent becomes amazing. The low casting cost creatures are exactly what you want here, this means Nessian Courser, Satyr Piper, Horizon Chimera, Vaporkin, and Triton Fortune Hunter are all awesome.

This deck also is going to have to fight for bounce spells, as they are all great in blue-green, as I’m not sure I can think of a card I would take over Sea God’s Revenge. Since many of the creatures have evasion Sedge’s Scorpion can become a very good way of holding off a large creature on the ground. While pump spells aren't amazing in blue-green Feral Invocation is simply very strong in any aggressive deck.

What to stay away from: One of the issues I foresee with blue-green is the deck not having enough depth. What I mean is the deck can be half cards that are very good, and then there are a number of cards that are mediocre or just bad. The reason I’m worried about this happening is the deck wants a number of powerful cards that other archetypes also want, so blue- green is not an archetype I would look to draft unless it seems to be open. Tempo decks don’t want a lot of five drops, but in Theros there are a large number of green commons which are five drops. Another card that can be tricky to use is Time to Feed, when first looking at this card it is obviously powerful, but you need creatures with high toughness for it to be at its best, the problem is the best creatures in blue-green are not ones with high toughness.

Red-Green

Strategy: I anticipate red-green being a very popular and successful archetype in Theros. The idea of simply playing larger creatures than your opponent is an easy concept to understand. Red-green tends to be considered more of a midrange strategy because it can take time to get fatties online. Red- green decks need lots of mana to operate, so I would recommend 18 lands. Many of the creatures also have monstrosity, so mana will be used in all stages of the game.

Cards to Prioritize: The card that immediately comes to mind as being a good way to ramp into large creatures is Voyaging Satyr. This card allows you to get your fatties online a turn earlier.  Other ramp effects that work along this same idea are Satyr Hedonist, Karametra’s Acolyte and Opaline Unicorn.  As far as the actual fatties Nemesis of Mortals, Nessian Asp, Stoneshock Giant, Ill-Tempered Cyclops are some of the best fatties. Red-Green will not have a problem getting fatties, so prioritizing cards like Rage of Purphoros over a good creature is usually correct. Even a card like Boulderfall could see some play in red-green, provided enough ramp effects.

What to stay away from: Don’t have too many large creature’s, it is easy to draft a red-green deck with an awful mana curve, with a ton of cards that cost five or more. Enchant creatures and pump spells are sub-par because this archetype has creatures that are very large to begin with. Small aggressive creatures that aren’t particularly good on defense like Minotour Skullcleaver are not at their best here.

I would like to briefly mention the Temple’s, as they do fit into these color combinations. These lands are all quite good and I think they will end up being taken in the middle of the pack. It has been quite a while since limited has had access to two color lands as powerful as the Temple’s.

Next week I will cover the last 5 color combinations, in addition to general ideas on drafting mono color and three or more color strategies in Theros. I hope you found my first article with DeckFactory worth reading, thanks.

-Seth Manfield

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