Drafting Scars of Mirrodin: Tricks and Tips part 1 – signals and deckbuilding goals

Has anyone else had a tough time drafting Scars of Mirrodin?  Obviously, this set is one of the trickier draft environments we’ve seen in a while.  Cards that seem deceptively good can sometimes prove entirely worthless (Rusted Relic?).  Cards that should be first picks often make it to you on 4th or 5th pick.  Why?  HOW?

Well, this points to one of the more challenging things about SoM (not to be confused with Secret of Mana, to fans of the series).  You can often open a pack with 3 or 4 reasonable first picks. You have your rare bomb (one out of every 3 rares you open is powerful in limited), your strong uncommons (Contagion Clasp, Trigon of Rage, Slice in Twain, Skinrender, Oxidia Scrapmelter, Razor Hippogriff, Darksteel Axe, Liquimetal Coating, Acid Web Spider, etc.. ), and well…

There are at least 6 commons I see as valid for first-picking:  Shatter and Arrest are outright First picks. Galvanic Blast, Turn to Slag,  and Revoke Existence are great as well, but sometimes get passed over for bombs.  Grip of Darkness can be a first pick rip in packs two and three, if you’re already in black, but it can be risky to run with it in pack 1 pick 1, because sometimes black dries up if the players to your right decide to go poison.

With so many potential first-picks coming to you as late as 3rd or 4th, it can make it very tricky to read signals in this set. You may think your opponent has no idea what he is doing.  Or you may hop into his color inadvertently – and granted, color doesn’t matter so much in this set – and almost any color is splashable for this environment – but you REALLY have to pay attention to signals if you want to optimize your deck.

The Red and White slew of strong commons means you will marvel at your late pick Arrests.  If you see one 4th pick, it can be a great signal that no one else is valuing white as highly as you. It may be time to start picking up Glint Hawk Idols and Sunspear Shikari whenever you see them.

The unfortunate thing about playing white is that you need to hit some good gear to really make the deck do what it’s supposed to do.  If you end up with 2 or fewer, you may find that your best creatures don’t really go online like they should.

If you go red after snatching an early Shatter and some burn, you have some pretty solid creatures to choose from in the uncommon slot – but most of red’s common creatures are worthless.  In fact, the amazing Blade-Tribe Berserkers are about all you really want to pick, along with some Iron Myr.  Volshok Heartstoker is not so bad if you end up playing red/black poison, as he sometimes can punch through the poison damage you need in the air.

Green/Black poison is the nuts, but you have to go all in on it early, and if someone else at the table has the same theory, you may find yourself fighting a losing battle at getting the 12 or more Infect creatures you need to back it up.

Red is the best splash color, but you need some hefty green creatures and/or solid artifacts to smooth out your curve.  I’ve had decent results pairing it with black as well, because of the many 2-for-1 effects you can play.  And White is great if you pick up metalcraft enablers like Origin Spellbomb, Myrsmith, Glint Hawk Idol, and efficient gear.  But nothing is set in stone, and sometimes your gameplan for drafting needs a fall-back plan….

You may think everything is going great….but what you may find is that cards you think would ordinarily table do not – these are most often artifacts.  When players try to draft Metalcraft, they’re going to put cards like Myr, the Trigons, Equipment and Spellbombs at slightly higher priority – if multiple opponents go that route, then everyone is in competition for the key pieces to their puzzle or else their entire deck risks falling apart.  For instance, I pulled 2 Galvanic Blast but ended up with only 7 artifacts in my deck (2 of which were not even that great) – you need a lucky draw to get enough artifacts online to make the spell solid in the late game (shock is never really bad, though).  Liquimetal Coating is very important to this effect, and it makes Shatter and other artifact targeting spells all the more insane – which is why I listed it among first-picks.  The draft atmosphere can quickly become very cut-throat, and you need to pay close attention to your playable artifact count so that you’re not forced to play dregs like Golem Foundry or Golden Urn to fill out your artifact quota (HINT: you won’t win if you have to do that).

One more tip about reading signals:  Usually, in an 8 man pod, you will get some strange signals when it comes to cards wheeling around.  If you didn’t read them the first time, here’s your chance.  If you see something like a Disperse, Veldalken Certarch or Neurok Replica 10th pick, you know blue may be open for pack two.  This means that people have picked a few strong cards in a particular color that require Metalcraft and have opted to choose decent artifacts over slightly better cards in a particular color.  Since color isn’t as important, even if you had 6 solid picks in one color pack one, don’t be afraid to jump into a more powerful color if it seems like the table is undervaluing it.  If you get a 3rd pick Volition Reins your gamble will pay off!

Here are some brief but important tips that could help you out when thinking of how to build your deck:

Never have I seen a set where “curve matters” is so ridiculous. I think I won’t be happy unless my deck has at least 8 2-drop cards.  In fact, anything you play that costs 4 or more mana should be a bomb of some sort.  There is just so much chaff in this set that you have to sift through, the real gems are all in the 2 slot, followed by the big cards that win games which have obvious stand-out potential.  My ideal build would be 6 removal spells, 3 mana-producing Myr, 5 other relevant 2-drop artifacts, and 4-5 fatties and 4-5 cards that you can outright windmill for a game-changing effect.  If you don’t have the 4 or so bombs, you should be afraid – very afraid – or just hope that those 4th and 5th pick Arrests that you snagged show up in your hand at the right time! Of course, if you manage to go the poison route and fit all of the pieces together effectively, you can get by on a solid draw, with poison creatures, a few Corpse Cur, and a few +x+1 equipment and simply outrace your opponent.

Whatever you can do to kill tempo for your opponent is big in this set – life actually matters.  There are times where slow decks are able to finally stabilize with big threats, only to die 2 turns later to your opponent’s 2 2/2 fliers.  To that end, Disperse is pretty incredibly and vastly undervalued in a draft.  Not only is it a combat trick to some extent (turning off Metalcraft at instant speed can only be done by this, Shatter, and a few spot cards), it can be a Time Walk many times over, allowing slower decks to fortify position and win with old, time-tested threats like Harbor Serpent. When you start combo-ing a few Disperse with a few Neurok Replica (maybe you have the Hippogriff combo too??) you can destroy all of your opponent’s valiant efforts to beat you down, and maybe give you time to get your own Metalcraft online so that your Centrarchs can just win you the game from there on out.  I really like blue and its tempo-smashing abilities – and splash in white or red for some really strong effects, and you have a deck that can win all day.

How about those 1-drop artifacts? What makes them good or bad?  Rule of thumb:  If it is a Darksteel Axe, play it.  If it is a spellbomb in your color (ie you have the ability to DRAW A CARD off of it), play it.  When you have a set that’s all about bombs, bombs and more bombs, with no reason to run anything that isn’t insane in your deck, you need to draw them.  Wizards answer to bomby decks?  Limited card draw.  Spellbombs are extraordinarily important for this.  The Horizon Spellbomb isn’t exactly fast, but it nets you two cards for 4 mana total.  The Origin Spellbomb replaces itself for the Metalcraft count AND draws you a card.   The rest of the Spellbombs simply Draw You Cards.  And sometimes have another limited-use effect.  The point is, they’re good, they dig, play them.  I recommend 2 per deck if you’re in the bad colors, and as many as you can play if they’re white.

If there were ever a set where 16 land is probably the ideal number, I think it is this set, where curves on average are pretty low, removal is cheap and efficient, and Myr essentially take the spot of land and accelerate you.   I’ve run it a few times and had problems only once, keeping a 2 land hand and never drawing a 3rd until turn 6, at which point I was too far behind.  Usually though, I play it safe and run 17 land.  If it comes down to playing 16 and a Spellbomb in your color, though?  Choose the ‘bomb.

That’s all I can think of for now, but keep an eye out.  This is a tricky set and there is much to learn.  People will just be getting a hang of playing the various archetypes when they find Mirrodin Besieged on its way into the environment…

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Published in: on October 22, 2010 at 2:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

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