As Mythic Championship VI approaches, I’ve continued to draft while Oko, Thief of Crowns takes over all the constructed Magic formats. My previous article touched on cards I thought were better or worse than I first thought they were – sometimes a card looks weak but performs well because the way it fits into archetypal synergies isn’t obvious until you try it. The reverse can also be true. In this article, I’m going to explore each of the draft archetypes often attributed to each of the two-colour combinations in the Throne of Eldraine Draft format. Having tried out the format fairly extensively in paper, on MTGArena, and on Magic Online, I’m of the opinion that some decks perform better if they capitalise on the synergies offered by the various archetypes. For others, it seems safer to just draft generically stronger cards available in their colours. Due to the unpredictable and complex nature of the rares and mythics, I’ll focus only on the common and uncommon cards. I’ll cover the following for each two-colour archetype:
- Uncommons: Not necessarily the ‘best’ uncommons available within the colour combination, but more the cards that promote said combination’s intended synergy. If you’re seeing some of the top cards in these categories a few picks in during the draft, it’s a very good sign that the archetype might be open. Each two-colour combination has an ‘unsplashable’ card with a converted mana cost of four that requires hybrid mana. Due to their mana costs, their presence later on in a pack can be quite telling about the colours that are more open during the draft. They each play different roles (to different levels of success) in their respective archetypes, so I’ll include a commentary on each of them later on.
- Commons: Again, not necessarily the ‘best commons’ available within the colour combination, but more the cards that provide the nuts and bolts of the archetype. In a vacuum, they might be underpowered cards, but they get a lot better if you’re drafting this deck.
- Synergy or Power?: Do you want to lean on the synergistic cards over holistically powerful cards if you’re drafting these colours? I’ll attempt to confirm one way or another and provide the reasoning behind my verdict.
Quick disclaimer that this overview is more about having a starting point for deciding picks during a draft, not so much a comprehensive guide on how to draft each archetype. Sometimes you’ll need to deviate if you’re low on interaction, low on creatures, or unsure if you’re (for example) Orzhov or Azorius based on your current picks.
The two-colour archetypes in Throne of Eldraine (ELD) draft
Azorius – artifacts and enchantments matter
Arcanist’s Owl is arguably the best uncommon once you’re in these colours. It turns on pay-offs and finds a card for you. A 3/3 flyer for four mana is good value on its own. I can’t think of an uncommon I’d rather pick once drafting this archetype.
One of this archetype’s strengths is that some of its setup cards are just solid removal spells in its colours.
Synergy or Power? – POWER
If you take strong blue and white cards without even worrying about the number of artifact and enchantment cards you’ve got, you’re very likely to end up with plenty of fliers and solid removal, which is a good start for any draft deck. A lot of the time a card like Vantress Paladin will be better than Shambling Suit or even All That Glitters. Those cards aren’t as consistent as Shinechaser and Animating Faerie unless you can end the game very quickly.
Orzhov – Knights
Resolute Rider is a decent resilient threat that fits into both aggressive and slower decks. It’s abilities are a bit mana intensive, but the ‘threat of activation’ alone will make your combat steps more effective. Having said this, there are seeral strong uncommons in these colours that get the nod over it, Belle of the Brawl, Order of Midnight, Epic Downfall, Syr Konrad, the Grim or Glass Casket.
Quick note to say that I have not considered the cards Syr Alin, the Lion’s Claw, Syr Carah, the Bold, and Syr Konrad, the Grim in the ‘Uncommons’ section of any of the Knights decks. They are generically strong cards and a number of non-knight decks will likely want to include them. They do make cards like Smitten Swordmaster and Brimstone Trebuchet better because of their creature type, but it’s their generic power that make them good includes in most decks that can cast them.
I try not to go 50/50 on this deck and aim to be mainly white splashing black or mainly black splashing white. From experience, this will help with your mana and will decide how aggressive your deck is.
Synergy or Power? – EITHER (depending on colour bias)
- Synergy: When you’re mainly white and splashing black, you’ll often rely more on the aggressively-slanted Knights synergies. You get more out of Venerable Knight, Ardenvale Tactician is much better than Lost Legion, and in games where you’ve curved out, Syr Alin is slightly better than Syr Konrad.
- Power: If you’re mainly black, you often aren’t as quick, so you’ll rely on individual card quality a bit more. Cards like Lost Legion are more defensive and stem attacks while smoothing out your draws allowing you to implement a slightly slower and potentially more grindy gameplan. This will be better against other aggressive decks, but worse against the Dimir or Golgari archetypes that are better set up for grindy games.
Boros – Knights
This deck wants to run the best ways to try and get your knights through for damage without losing speed (e.g. taking a turn off to play a removal spell without decreasing damage output this or the next turn). Fireborn Knight is a very solid aggressive card that embodies what this archetype is all about. It’s incredibly effective if you’ve managed to pick up a couple of Rimrock Knights. I would still likely take Slaying Fire, Syr Alin, the Lion’s Claw and Syr Carah, the Bold over this card, even if I was already in the archetype, but otherwise, I think it’s an ideal pick.
Synergy or Power? – SYNERGY
I think there simply isn’t a good enough depth of commons and uncommons in this colour combination outside of an aggressive knights-based deck so I’d always try to capitalise on its synergies if you’re set on Boros. I don’t think this archetype really has any good defensive options like Orzhov, nor is it as good at ‘going tall’ as Rakdos (because it doesn’t have Steelclaw Lance or Giant’s Skewer), however, I think it’s the quickest at dealing damage of the three because it has a good go-wide plan complimented by combat tricks. When it comes to combat tricks, I prefer cards like Barge In over Silverflame Squire. This archetype would prefer to efficiently press the advantage and end the opponent rather than get more value out of each card as the game progresses.
Rakdos – Knights
I think you really want to start with Steelclaw Lance if you’re going Rakdos. In addition to the general beatdown plan, there’s the real potential to ‘go tall’ using some of these cards by setting up big attacks with an equipped Raging Redcap! I don’t rate Elite Headhunter very highly, and I’m wishing its ability was able to target the opponent. It’s incredibly mana intensive on all counts. In this archetype, and if I can support it mana-wise, Locthwain Paladin can just be better. I’d take pretty much any other of the uncommons that fit this archetype over it.
Synergy or Power? – POWER
At first, I didn’t think the Knight-based synergies were worth it at all in these colours. After giving it a few goes, I found that they do enhance the deck a little bit, you just have to have a slightly different gameplan from both Boros and Orzhov. Rakdos is more about setting up a few high-quality attacks rather than being solely concerned about how relentlessly you can attack the opponent throughout the game. This means drafting plenty of Raging Redcaps, suiting up with equipment, and holding those combat tricks for only the opportune moment! In spite of my discovery, I’ve found the cost of this setup to be quite high and vulnerable to blowouts, so I personally still think the reward is not quite worth the risk. Red and black offers a very good removal suite that shouldn’t be ignored, and I think unless you start with multiple Steelclaw Lances, it’s just safer to draft these colours by taking generically powerful cards rather than worrying about how much value you are getting from cards like Errant Ogre or Smitten Swordmaster.
Selesnya – Adventures
Edgewall Inkeeper is one of my favourite cards in the set. It makes sure this deck can keep drawing spells to continue to pressure the opponent into the mid (and possibly) late-game. Lucky Clover is good in a lot of decks, but I think this is the one it shines in most often due to the density of cards with Adventure. I think Oakhame Ranger is a bit worse than it looks (I hadn’t actually played it much before I wrote the previous article). You need to untap with it for it to be good and that will often mean you have to take a turn off to play a 2/2 for four mana (or 2 turns off if you want value via adventure). This makes it a very slow card. I’d take any of the other uncommons pictured above and some of the generic green or white cards like Archon of Absolution, Oakhame Adversary, Glass Casket, and Kenrith’s Transformation over it.
The flyers are my favourite, particularly Ardenvale Tactician – sometimes you win games by being able to implement plan ‘I attack, you can’t block.’ 1/1 flyers for 1 have not impressed me in the past, but Faerie Guidemother is much better because of its flexibility. It can free a creature from Trapped in the Tower which can be a huge blowout!
Power or Synergy? – SYNERGY
Beanstalk Giant and Tuinvale Treefolk lose quite a bit of value in this colour combination despite having adventuring capabilities primarily because the decks wants to be aggressive and close out games quickly if it can. As such, they are much better in other green decks. Despite Adventure giving you two spells in one card, I don’t think you want to play a grindy game where you try to always get the most out of each card. It’s important to know when to play out your creatures without adventuring first as well. I’d treat the adventures as incidental tactical bonuses when appropriate, rather than something you have to implement in each game. For example, if you always try to sculpt the game so that you get ‘full value’ from Silverflame Squire and Garenbrig Carver, you’ll probably make the deck too slow.
Simic – ‘Ramp’
I think Maraleaf Pixie is the best card if you’re already in these colours. It helps you ramp and a 2/2 flyer for two is an efficient aerial attacker. I would say all Simic decks want Thunderous Snapper as it’s a good-sized creature even without its ability. The card draw clause isn’t an engine per-se, as it’s unlikely you’ll have an incredibly high number of cards costing 5 or more in your deck, but if there’s a deck that promotes 5-6 drops, this is it!
With Simic you get to choose whether you want to take advantage of some of the Adventures, Non-humans, Artifacts/enchantments matter, or Food cards. However, in each case, I think you also want to take advantage of playing large stompy creatures, and the above are some of the best common cards to help you do so.
Synergy or Power? – Power
I think, on average, it’s quite hard to build your main gameplan around Adventures, Non-humans, Artifacts/enchantments, or Food unless you’ve picked up some very specific cards. With this archetype, you’ll need to go with the flow of the draft and decide if it makes sense to ‘borrow’ one of these synergistic archetypes. Most of the time it’s much safer and often just better to take generically more powerful interaction like Outmuscle or Turn into a Pumpkin, Rosethorn Acolytes and large creatures.
Gruul – Non-Humans
My favourite is Keeper of Fables because it’s a threat by itself, but on the right board state the other two can be much more powerful. Rampart Smasher is a good-sized creature and sometimes has evasion. Having said this, the generically powerful Slaying Fire and Syr Carah, the Bold are more important picks for me, even if you’re in Red Green already.
Power or Synergy? – Power
I don’t think the commons that promote the synergies are particularly good cards unless you’ve managed to get a Wirewood Tracker wielding a Rosethorn Halberd and attacking on turn two or three! Ferocity of the Wilds and Grumgully, the Generous may mean you need to take weaker non-human cards to make sure you have enough in your deck to reap the rewards in the first place. I think there’s a version of this deck that plays aggressively-slanted creatures supported by removal and key combat tricks, but I think it can be constructed without any of the Non-humans-matters cards.
Golgari – Food
Of the colour combinations, Goglari uses food the most effectively but also has a number of adventure cards like Order of Midnight and Reaper of Night that support the implementation of a longer, grindier game. Deathless Knight also works really well with food – haste and the ability to block gives it the potential to hold off or trade with creatures each time you recur it. Despite its strengths and being a decent card, it’s not always a high pick for me. I think I would still take Savvy Hunter and Trail of Crumbs over it as well as giving preference to some of the generically powerful uncommons in these colours, such as Epic Downfall, Keeper of the Fables, Oakhame Adversary, Revenge of Ravens, and Syr Konrad, the Grim. This is because I think they frequently play a more crucial role in implementing a value-based gameplan.
Bake into a Pie and Fierce Witchstalker are very high quality in general even when not drafting food synergies. Every black or green drafter will want them and they can easily pull a drafter into these colours. Reaper of the Night is a decent finisher for the deck.
Power or Synergy? – Synergy
The individual card quality is very high in this archetype so sometimes you’ll get away with having ‘just good cards’ (as compared with other archetypes intended for synergy). In order to succeed most, I think you really want to be capitalising on the synergies with the uncommons. I think the biggest weakness of this deck is the existence of mill decks, as they undermine the power of the card advantage you can generate if you don’t put them away quickly enough. It’s easy to get lost in the world of ‘generating value’ and forget that you need to make sure you have enough ways to pressure the opponent’s health total, even though you won’t be doing it early on in most games. Other than that, I think it’s a very solid archetype and will likely be very popular.
Dimir – Control/Mill
Drown in the Loch is probably the best uncommon once you’re in Dimir unless you find a Lucky Clover for your six Merfolk Secretkeepers. Into the Story is good in this archetype but less good in others because you can easily reduce its cost – other decks are more likely to opt for Unexplained Vision. As you might think, Covetous Urge is great against slower decks but suffers a lot vs the faster beatdown decks. Taking the opponent’s best card from their hand or graveyard can be devastating if you have the time to use it against them, but if you’re facing down early pressure and their hand is just combat tricks, the joke is probably on you. For instance, I often sideboard it out when on the draw against an aggressive deck unless they definitely have some low-cost removal spells.
Power or Synergy: Either, depending on how much ‘milling’ you want to do!
Synergy: One way to draft this deck is to take as many Merfolk Secretkeepers and Didn’t Say Pleases and draft what is effectively a ‘Turbo Mill’ deck. You might support it with the odd Eye Collector or cards like Forever Young or Run Away Together to reuse your 0/4s. This can actually race conventional beatdown decks quite well but can be very weak to flyers or creatures with 4+ power. It also needs to draw the Secretkeepers early against most opponents (except maybe Izzet draw-two – described immediately below).
Power: The other main way is to draft a solid control deck that can deal with most enemy threats through removal or counterspells and then lean on a couple of Secretkeepers to make sure the opponent runs out of cards before you do. You can combine your 0/4s with Forever Young and/or Run Away Together but it might not even be needed. Here you need to make sure you focus on taking more cards that will help you control the game for almost its entirety, for example Revenge of Ravens, creatures with high toughness, and solid removal. Your win condition is simply the inevitability of the opponent running out of cards. This deck will be more reliable against a spread of archetypes, but probably actually loses hard to the turbo-mill version above.
Izzet – draw-two
Improbable Alliance and Mad Ratter are the standouts here. I’ve had the most success with a go-wide plan when in these colours. Loch Dragon works very well in the archetype giving you a potential trigger for your payoff cards every turn and an aerial threat. I’d say you always want this card when you’re in these colours, but I’d likely take an Improbable Alliance or a Mad Ratter over it if I didn’t already have one because payoffs are really important for this archetype!
Neither Steelgaze Griffin or Bloodhaze Wolverine are particularly great despite being payoff cards. The other setup cards are very important once you’ve picked up an Alliance or Ratter. Merchant of the Vale is particularly versatile.
Power or Synergy? – Synergy
This one is a slam dunk on Synergy. You absolutely want the uncommon payoffs and setup cards that let you trigger them over a mix of holistically powerful red and blue spells because triggering the payoffs is more powerful than anything else you can reliably be doing in these colours. One of the benefits of drafting this deck is that ways to trigger the payoff cards outside of Izzet are actually quite rare, so your best cards are (in theory) only at risk if another person is drafting exactly the same colours (unlike Edgewall Innkeeper which is sought after by anyone in green, Bake into a Pie by anyone in black etc). I’ve found this deck to be solid all-round, but it can be a bit can be weak to the Dimir mill/control deck as you actively help them win by triggering your payoffs.
To quickly summarise what I’ve unpacked above:
Colour combinations that thrive more on the archetypal synergies
- Golgari Food
- Dimir (Turbo) Mill
- Izzet Draw-two
- Azorius Artifacts-matter (Aggressive build)
- Orzhov Knights (White-based, more aggressive build)
- Boros Knights
- Selesnya Adventures
Colour combinations that rely more on drafting individually powerful cards
- Gruul Non-humans
- Simic Ramp
- Rakdos Knights
- Orzhov Knights (Black-based, more midrange build)
- Dimir Control
- Azorius Artifacts/enchantments-matter (Any non-aggressive build)
I hope to have provided some food for thought here on how different combinations of colours and ways of drafting rely on taking advantage of synergy or raw power in varying measures. It’s hard to fully apply the theory in the heat of a draft, but if you’re agonising between two picks, maybe some of the points made in the article can help you decide which one might work out in your colour combination. I didn’t cover drafting Mono-coloured decks as I believe that being one colour means there is simply less synergy to take advantage of, so it will almost always be a secondary consideration to a card’s raw power level.
I’ve now moved on to trying out a couple of Standard decks as Mythic Championship VI approaches. I will probably play Oko, Crown of Thieves (like almost everyone else…?). In addition, I’ve had to exert some self-discipline to focus on the formats relevant to the Mythic Championship in the wake of Pioneer, the new format announced recently by Wizards. I might write something on that soon after my trip to Richmond.
You can find me on Facebook and Twitter @Chris54154 or at WPNQ events in the UK (more the north than the south). Feel free to hit me up with any thoughts you might have.
As always, thanks for reading and good luck in your next game.