The World Championship is just around the corner and over 100 competitors will be on hand to try for the most coveted tournament win of them all, starting Friday and Saturday with three rounds of Wilds of Eldraine Booster Draft, followed by four rounds of Standard.
For fans of the Pro Tour, you'll note that's one fewer round of Constructed per day, meaning Limited has an even more prominent spot at the World Championship, and the players who put the work in to figure out the format will have an even bigger advantage than usual.
Wild, Fresh, and Fast
Adding fuel to the fire, Wilds of Eldraine just came out, so players and teams need to scramble to get their feet for the Limited portion of the tournament. Between developing Standard decks, choosing one, and playtesting, there may not be much time left over to get eight players to sit around a table and draft too many times.
Crash courses are in order; how about one right now?
The Big Picture
Formats tend to evolve. The colors and strategies that people use to win early in the format can be phased out by astute drafters who take advantage of underutilized cards, colors, and strategies.
That said, in the early days of this format, it's been fast. Like, really fast. On the Limited Resources podcast, my co-host Luis Scott-Vargas and I have a name for a particular strategy called C.A.B.S.
We're talking about creatures, removal spells, combat tricks. That's it. No cute artifacts, no card draw spells, no ramp spells, no build-around uncommons. Just cards that either advance your own board or remove stuff from theirs, and many of the winning strategies in Wilds of Eldraine look a lot like CABS-style decks.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Red has been the strongest individual color, and seems best when paired with White, but also excellent when paired with Black.
Powerful commons like
But threats like Ratcatcher Trainee, Edgewall Pack, and Redcap Thief all add to the board while also singlehandedly triggering the celebration mechanic.
Celebration as a mechanic isn't something that you even have to build towards too directly; the three previous cards are all totally fine on their own. But it's a hint to the speed of the format that you can so easily trigger a mechanic that really only cares to be triggered on your own turn, to benefit your combat step.
It's often the case that the Boros (the red-white color pair) deck in any given Draft format is the most aggressive, and that's the case here.
Take a look at the signpost uncommon for red-white:
Not a lot of room for confusion with what to do with Ash, Party Crasher. Powerful commons like Hopeful Vigil, Cooped Up, and Archon's Glory round out a lean curve to pile on maximum damage.
There are two other archetypes that have stood out in the early stages of this format.
Pairing the good red cards already mentioned with a really well-rounded, top tier set of commons that Black has access to is a no-brainer. Not only do these colors compliment each other naturally, they have the cross-section of synergy known as rat tokens to really bring the room together.
Solid removal like
Much of this advantage is garnered through the bargain mechanic. When evaluating these cards it was difficult to figure out just how often we would be able to pay the bargain price, and if it was worth it to give up on board material to do so.
As it's played out so far, it's almost trivially easy to get your bargain on, and it's almost always worth it to do so.
Just look at one card from each of my categories above, like
Just because the format is fast, doesn't mean it's all aggro decks. If one of our World Championship contenders is more interested in good old midrange, they'll be aiming for Green-Black Golgari.
This archetype leans heavily on two main themes: bargain and Food tokens (with a touch of Role tokens). As you may imagine, these go together. When you play out the games with this archetype, it feels like you get a Food token or random Role attached to your creature every few turns without even trying. Cards like Hollow Scavenger, Ferocious Werefox, Redtooth Genealogist, Sweettooth Witch, and Mintstrosity show how this happens.
These make getting bargain value trivial, and with great payoffs like Hamlet Glutton around you'll find ample opportunity to take advantage.
One thing players will need to consider beyond what they want to draft is what they should avoid.
In this set, there is a cool mechanic for the white-blue deck that revolves around tapping the opposing creatures down and getting paid off for doing so. I've tried it multiple times and it just doesn't seem to come together quite enough to justify going for the deck. My best guess as of now is that while there are plenty of cards that tap creatures down, there aren't enough great payoffs to make it worth going for.
Green-blue aims to casting spells that cost five or more mana, but it kind of misses as the format (right now) is fast enough that focusing on a lower curve deck is a priority, leaving little space for more expensive spells.
But for fans of green, blue, and big splashy stuff, there is a path.
Five-color decks can lean into drafting cards that fix mana quickly to cast powerful cards across multiple colors. While it may look like messy "nonsense" as it's a deck that isn't a defined two-color pair's strategy, it makes up for it by having the highest card-for-card quality by playing the best of anything it sees.
I talked to Luis before he played in a Regional Championship Qualifier and he told me he liked a five-color deck for draft and may try it out if he got that far in the tournament. He did make it to the draft portion, promptly drafted exactly that deck, and won the whole thing. Classic LSV.
But after going a bit deeper on what makes the deck work, I think he's onto something. There are a few keys to winning in the early part of a new format.
First you have to understand the basics of what the format is doing. Which colors are best. Which archetypes are clicking and which aren't. You need that baseline (which is why I covered it first for this article). But second, you can try to go against the grain, zag while everyone is zigging, and try to find a lane where you are getting cards late that are important to your strategy while other people fight it out for the more well-known stuff.
There are broadly two versions of this deck, one is green-based with all of the fixing it brings, and the other is more Blue-based and uses the baseline artifacts and lands to fix the mana.
I like the green version the most, so I'll break that one down here. (Again, credit to LSV for this one, he found the deck, worked out the kinks, and even won an RCQ with it.)
There are many cards that fix for all five colors, and they make up the heart of the deck.
With all of these tools you'll have access to basically any color of mana you'd like, but what do you spend it on? First, cheap removal like
Fending off the early attacks from the aggressive decks is key, and these are the premium tools to do just that.
As for the big payoffs for the deck, you get all the off-color adventure creatures you can handle, plus any upper-rarity bombs you end up opening.
It's worth noting that you're more likely to get passes sick bombs the later the draft goes. If someone opens a great rare pack 1 pick 1, you better believe they are taking it. But if they open the same card pack 3 pick 1, they have to see if it fits their colors, and if not, well let's just say it will fit yours.
Will any player at the World Championship be aware of, and brave enough to, draft this deck? Or will they stick to the proven strategies?
Tune in on Friday September 22nd with Paul Cheon and me in the booth to find out!