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Feature: M11 Draft Archetypes

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People talk all the time about archetypes in Constructed. It's important to estimate the composition of a given field; after all, if your deck beats everything but Jund, but 60% of players are playing Jund, you probably ought not to play that deck. It doesn't make a particular difference if one of the Jund lists main-decks one or two Sarkhan the Mad, or whether it plays twenty-six or twenty-seven land; what's important is that it's Jund, and so you can assume certain things about how the games are going to play out. That's what an archetype is: a class of deck with a coherent strategy, theme, and game plan.

Yet too often in Limited, decks are simply described as "a red-green deck" or "blue-black splashing for a Fireball" with no attention given to a broader archetype or strategy. In truth, though, it's possible (and smart!) to draft a deck that, like the best Constructed decks, takes advantage of a particular set of interactions to craft a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. This isn't simply a re-statement of the classic power/synergy debate; it's possible, after all, to have both. But when you're trying to decide between Act of Treason and Nether Horror for your black-red deck in Magic 2011 Limited, it's not enough to know which card you think is better. You have to be able to figure out what kind of work each card can do.

With all of that in mind, I took a walk around to see what archetypes the Pros had favored. I tried to look beyond the color combinations into some specific interactions or themes they had built their decks around—and I stumbled upon some pretty cool stuff!

The first person I ran into was Gabriel Nassif, who was playing against a more controlling black-red attrition deck with multiple discard effects and a smattering of solid removal. Gabe's board was Augury Owl, Infantry Veteran, a pair of Silvercoat Lions—and only two lands. "He's mana hosed," I immediately thought, but I looked at his graveyard to find that he had discarded his third land to Liliana's Specter. Apparently, Nassif's white-blue tempo deck was so aggressive and full of early drops that he felt he didn't need more than two mana to operate.

Contrast this style of white-blue to the more controlling defensive builds that favor more expensive creatures like Azure Drake or Cloud Crusader, or something even more off-the-wall like Brian Kibler's deck from table one. Kibler explained to me that while he had some solid aggressive fliers like Assault Griffin and a powerful finisher in Mind Control, what he most wanted to do was stick a Scroll Thief and push it through turn after turn with tempo spells like Unsummon, Aether Adept, Excommunicate, and especially Merfolk Sovereign.

Those differences are fairly subtle, sure, as are the differences between Tomoharu Saito's ultra-aggressive red-green deck (a concoction featuring all of Goblin Piker, Grizzly Bears, Manic Vandal, and Volcanic Strength) and Conley Woods's version of red-green, which relies on cards like Sylvan Ranger and Cultivate to cast massive bombs like Yavimaya Wurm, Magma Phoenix, and Protean Hydra. They're matters of degrees. But I bet you've never drafted a green-white deck like the one that Belgian pro Mark Dictus showed me after Round 1.

At first, I saw a Garruk's Packleader and an Obstinate Baloth and assumed he was in the green-white midrange fatties deck I've drafted a few times myself. But then I took a look at his fourAjani's Pridemates and knew that something was up. Apparently, Dictus had crafted an entire strategy around his third Pridemate that involved two Tireless Missionaries, Solemn Offering, the aforementioned Obstinate Baloth, and the absolutely insane Leyline of Vitality, which could grow those Pridemates off the charts!

Of course, those aren't the only mind-blowing synergies rearing their heads. Gaudenis Vidugiris has a pair of Fire Servants to go with Lightning Bolt, a pair of Lava Axes, and his Fireball, and it's entirely possible that he can end a game without ever once getting into the Red Zone. Katsuhiro Mori put together a nasty little engine of Viscera Seer, Reassembling Skeleton, and Conundrum Sphinx—and has Crystal Ball and Foresee to tie it all together. But my own personal favorite has got to be Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's ultra-slow blue-red control deck that hearkens back to his Pro Tour–Honolulu Standard deck from 2005. Featuring a slew of card-drawing including double Preordain, Scroll Thief + Merfolk Sovereign, Jace's Ingenuity, and even Sorcerer's Strongbox, Wafo-Tapa can dig with ease into one of his two Mind Controls—or, if that's not enough, he can simply choose to end the game right away with a massive Fireball.

One thing is for sure: while on the surface M11 Draft is a straightforward, core-set Limited environment, there's room to get a little crazy if you try.

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