Guidelines for Odyssey - Torment - Judgment Drafting: Card Evaluations
In my introductory article on block drafting I talked about the ten basic archetypes
and divided them into four groups: UW being the overall best deck, followed by UG, GB and GW. The third group contains UB, GR and BR, and the weakest group features WR, BW and UR. This ranking is based mostly on the overall power of the specific colors and synergy effects. It's not surprising that green has three of its' decks in the top 4, as it's just the deepest color in OD-TO-JU, followed closely by blue. White has made a strong comeback with Judgment and is now in third place, ahead of both black and red. Naturally, the actual power of a draft deck depends also on the number of people sharing its' colors, which means
that even the weaker archetypes can win the table occasionally if their colors are underdrafted.
This time I'd like to talk about card evaluation and how that changed with the introduction of Judgment. Evaluating cards correctly becomes even more important with three different sets, since you'll likely see a specific common only once, if at all. So you better know how important it is to your deck and if there are any replacements for it in the other sets, should you decide to pass it along. In this article I'll go through the colors and point out the most important commons in terms of a change in evaluation with the addition of the new set.
Psionic Gift: it's a well known fact that this enchantment is pretty important in UW and
UG, so it usually gets picked between 2nd and 5th pick out of a booster. However, talking
to other players about it and seeing it winning matches time and again, I think it should
be picked somewhat higher, propably right after Cephalid Looter (best blue common), before
Aven Windreader and definitely over Aven Fisher nowadays.
Aether Burst, Repel: these two come right after the four commons mentioned above.
Bounce is rare and these two are the best you can get (Dematerialize, Churning Eddy
and Ghostly Wings are the other three). While chances are slim to get a 2nd Burst, I
still prefer it over Repel because it's easier to keep two mana open - and it's more flexible, protecting your own creatures just as well as bouncing your opponents' (to fight creature enchantments for example). Churning Eddy is alright, but it ends up in my sideboard most of the time. Dematerialize is a decent main deck card. I really love Ghostly Wings: it can either be used to bounce an opposing creature or creature token (even better yet) in an emergency situation or, which is more likely, it gives you a potent flying creature that's also protected from removal spells. Combine it with Auramancer, Gravedigger or any other come-into-play effect and it's easy to get back that loss of card advantage when you activate it.
Deep Analysis: the card that makes the difference in the blue mirror match. Skywing Aven
is great, but getting four extra cards for one is huge - after all, this card gets constructed
play nowadays, though that's not always a good indicator for limited play to be honest.
Aside form Deep Analysis and Skywing Aven, Torment isn't exactly hot in blue: Aquamoeba
is a good addition to any deck (way better than Phantom Whelp of course) and Hydromorph Guardian is surprisingly useful (or annoying, depending on which side of the table you are).
I've often left him in the sideboard because he's just a gray ogre after all, but I gained some
respect for him during the last weeks.
Keep Watch: one of those cards that's either barely playable or game-breaking in the right deck. The good part about it is that you should know how good it is in your deck by the time you open your Judgment pack. That said, Wormfang Drake is the undisputed best blue common in JU.
Mirror Wall: wow, quite a beatstick for UW! It reminds me of good old Mobile Fort days.
Unfortunately it's nothing more than a 3/4 wall if you're not playing white, but even then
it's decent, providing good ground defense.
Mental Note, Lost in Thought: if your deck wants threshold the Note is the fastest way
to achieve it, so draft it accordingly. Lost in Thought can be pretty harsh in the early game,
shutting down a creature completely, but it's no long-time solution for dominating creatures.
I play it if my deck lacks early defense, and side it in occasionally.
Muscle Burst, Seton's Desire: Green offers a wide array of good creatures, especially in
Odyssey and Judgment, but growth effects are rare. Basically, it's Muscle Burst, Refresh
and Sudden Stength. That's why Muscle Burst becomes so important: it's cheap, efficient,
and turns your green decks from good to great. Currently I'd pick it as high as 2nd, right after
Wild Mongrel. Refresh and and Sudden Strength are both good to have, but come at a higher
cost which makes them less flexible. Still, the Strength is just behind Phantom Tiger (maybe
after Ironshell Beetle) in Judgment, depending on your deck. Seton's Desire has always
been strong, but with the introduction of phantom creatures and the presence of less bounce
and removal in the environment, it received quite a boost and I pick pretty high nowadays.
Diligent Farmhand, Rites of Spring, Far Wanderings: you shouldn't pick them over any
significant green cards, but keep in mind that they make splashing a third color a lot easier.
It's comforting to have a Farmhand and, say, a sacrifice land and an egg out of Odyssey
when you open your Torment and Judgment boosters - that way you can easily play a third
color if you end up with too few cards or any off color bombs (I'll talk about that later).
Auramancer: Patriarch's Desire, Psionic Gift, Ghostly Wings, Arcane Teachings - need
I say more? There are plenty of good enchantments in this environment and this guy gets
them back if you're opponent manages to handle them. He shouldn't be picked too highly
though - somewhere around 5th -6th of the white commons, but watch out for him.
Teroh's Faithful: it's comforting to have that one Faithful in a UW deck - often times it
swings the damage race on its own, providing a solid 3/4 body and a 4 point life boost.
Needless to say he gets even better with Ghostly Wings or other tricks that make him
come-into-play a second time.
Embolden, Prismatic Strands: Fortunately white is so deep in JU that you should often
get Prismatic Strands pretty late in the draft. It's unfair that white has so many good
and cheap prevention effects compared to red's removal. I'd rather have Prismatic
Strands, but both are great and one of them does the job well on its own.
Looking at the black commons, I don't see any big changes in their evaluation or stuff
that changed with JU's introduction. There's the decision between Gravedigger and
Dirty Wererat - I belong to the Gravedigger camp, but I can see the point for Dirty
Wererat as it's virtually unkillable in many matchups. Next is Mesmeric Fiend and
Soul Scourge where I usually pick the fiend for casting cost reasons and because of
the devastating effect it has on many decks, stealing a top-card for the whole game.
Chainflinger, Ember Beast: when Odyssey was introduced, people picked Ember
Beast as low as 4th or 5th out of the red commons while Chainflinger was second, right
behind Firebolt. GR beats was quite amazing during Odyssey-only times, especially as
long as stuff like Chatter of the Squirrel or Rites of Initation went late and people drafted
relatively slow decks. During that time and to some degree still during OD-OD-TO, Ember
Beast should have been picked over Chainflinger A lot has changed though, and nowadays
I'd pick Chainflinger over Ember Beast again for two reasons: G, W and U are pretty popular
and chances are high that you'll face a deck that can hardly handle the Chainflinger.
And, by picking Chainflinger you get a card that can be splashed into UW pretty well
(something like 2-3 mountains, Chainflinger and Firebolt), so you leave your options open.
Arcane Teachings: it's a little too good. This means that people will occasionally
take it away from you, even if they're not red, just to splash it. Aside from the Psionic
Gift effect, it's also a Giant Strength for your phantom creatures. Pretty much like
Fiery Temper in Torment, this card stands above all other red commons - see it, take it.
Lava Dart, Ember Shot: at first read Lava Dart sounds innocent enough, but it's a damn
fine spell - basically a better Engulfing Flames (without the non-regeneration part though).
During one of my first Judgment drafts I opened a pack with Ember Shot and Goretusk
Firebeast, looking for some stuff for my GR deck at that point. I burst into laughs seeing
the casting costs of these two goodies: 6R and 5R! Holy cow batman. I passed the Ember
Shot. Since then I've gained some respect for it (thanks to Marco). Yes, it's expensive,
but this format isn't exactly lightning fast - much like Urza's block in a way and you get
a solid removal with a cantrip effect, just what you want in a BR control or in UW deck
that splashes for Ember Shot. It's certainly better than its reputation.
When shall I play three colors?
Naturally, you shouldn't sit down at the draft table with the intention to go
three colored. But as I just mentioned above, the environment is slow enough
to let powerful but expensive spells have their impact on the game, so much so that
it's almost always worth it to trade some consistency for power. Three factors are
important when deciding about whether or not to splash a third color:
1) defense: if you're UW with Angelic Wall, Teroh's Faithful and Second Thoughts, you are a lot
more likely to get into the mid and late-game - the point where that powerful splash
card has the biggest impact. The more aggressive my deck is, the more I want consistent
mana (I'm likely running only 17 lands in that kind of deck anyway).
2) off-color mana: if you have a couple of land-fetching effects and other ways to produce off-color mana
you're in good shape to splash a third or even fourth color. Recently I had a GB deck with Diligent Farmhand, two Timberland Ruins and a Mossfire Egg. I decided to splash both Cephalid Looter and Vampiric Dragon and didn't regret it - instead I won some games
off those two cards alone.
3) the card/s in question: you should try to fill some holes with your splash. Chainflinger or Firebolt in a non-removal deck is good, as is Springing Tiger or Rabid Elephant in UW. Splashing Mystic Zealot into a GR deck doesn't do much good
although the Zealot is a 1st pick caliber card. Generally, I see splashing as an option and keep it in mind during my drafts, often as a kind of emergency net if I end up with too few good cards or my deck lacks power in some area.
The G-W-U triangle:
To every rule there's an exception I guess. If there is a viable three color deck in this
format, it's GWU. You might start out with GW and then get passed Deep Analysis,
or you're solidly UW but open an Anurid Brushhopper. In both cases you can quickly
end up with more than just a splash of that third color, but it might be well worth it.
These colors provide many cantrips, card drawing and land-fetching to smoothe out
your decks' gameplay. Plus, you get the best out of Judgment, including the uncommon
lands: Krosan Verge and Nantuko Monastery. So it can be the right decision to go three
colored when you're lacking quality and face a potential splash card in Torment.
Play or Draw?
The general rule of thumb seems to be 'play' in draft games and 'draw' in sealed deck.
However, OD-TO-JU is among the slower environments and you don't want to miss
a land drop until turn four in aggressive decks, while control decks need five or six mana to
get going. Considering this, I'm mostly convinced that 'draw' is the right way to go for
almost all draft decks. Also, by drawing first you can afford to take a mulligan more easily
if you have to. Naturally, this decision should be based on the information you have - if
you know that your opponent runs a couple of Petravarks in an aggressive deck and you
have little early game, you should rather go first.
That's it for now. I hope you found this article helpful and I'd be glad to get your
responses - either in the forum or via email.
- Patrick Mello