Hi everyone! Set 5 Draft is upon us and boy, is it a great format to come back to! I have thoroughly enjoyed Set 5 Draft and despite being low on time to play, I still managed to squeeze into top 100 masters off the back of 8 excellent runs from bronze! Anyway, enough chit-chat, let’s give you the link that you all are really here for:
This format has been extremely interesting to draft and feels very distinct from the previous formats, so I thought I would share a few hot takes:
1) Fixing is abundant and great
First and foremost, we have been saved from the hell that is set 4 draft with the return of Strangers and Banners. That, with the inclusion of Bannerman and Tokens in the Set 5 packs, means fixing is pretty commonplace, and allows for you to play decks with more than 2 factions. In fact, I would expect slightly less than 20% of decks to be purely 2F, and a majority of those 2F decks to be Rakano or Skycrag aggro that do not want the depleted power or to play strangers instead of their busted 2 drops like Oni Forgemaster. I think about 50~60% of the decks in the format would be 2F+1 splash or 2F+2 splash, and a big reason for this (besides the abundant fixing) is the strength of the tri-faction cards (the Display cycle, Carnivorous Sauropod, Kosul Beastmaster). Rounding up the remainder would be the 3F or even 4F/5F greedpiles that you can build with the abundant fixing. Unfortunately, a fair chunk of cards in this format are more synergy driven rather than being individually good, so while 4F/5F greedpiles can still be good, they are rarely busted beyond belief.
That said, despite fixing being abundant, it does not mean that you should ignore them. Cards like Bannerman and double-on Strangers should still be extremely high picks simply because having a good powerbase can and will win you games. I know that 2 power 2/2s are not flashy and don’t seem exciting next to cards like Deadeye and Bartholo, the Seducer, but think of the games where you get influence screwed, and realize that you can minimize those games by simply picking up a few more Strangers and Bannerman instead of having to whine about RNG time and again.
2) Synergistic Themes
One reason that decks in this format are extremely interesting to draft is that synergy often plays a huge role in the deck itself, making it important to think of how the cards work together as you draft them.
FIRE AGGRO (RENOWN)
The fastest archetype in the format, Fire aggro (more specifically Rakano, Skycrag or FJP) decks utilize the Renown keyword to get off to a blazing start and attempt to (and for the most part, successfully) run over other decks as they attempt to establish a board. With powerful and aggressive low drops (Oni Ronin, Rakano Outlaw, District Infantry), combined with cheap weapons and tricks (Heavy Axe, Bear Arms, Finest Hour, Mighty Strikes), these decks can easily build up a huge board while constantly bashing your face in. Renown has great synergy with this archetype, since it rewards you for playing weapons (which have pseudo-charge) and tricks (to push through opposing blockers).
I was hesitant on this theme initially, since it felt strongly reminiscent of Grenadins in Set 3, but it turns out to be a real thing. Swinging in with 3/3 Lucky Prospectors on turn 2 and following up with a Acantha’s Outrider on turn 3 is an easy way to run away with the game. There is also a sufficient density of relics such that if the theme is open, finding relics should not be a huge issue. Some standout relic synergy cards include Lethrai Courtier, Acantha’s Outrider, Seasoned Spelunker and Pompous Historian while standout relics include Pitfall Trap, Secret Passage and Lethrai Hideaway, to name a few.
TIME RAMP (EMPOWER/AMPLIFY)
Time ramp is another theme that is present in this format. What makes it more interesting that previous formats is the presence of 2 additional payoffs (on top of generic expensive fatties). Firstly, there are some Time cards (Pack Beast, Powerbreach Sentinel) that allow you to play multiple power in a turn, and this synergizes extremely well with the Empower keyword of the TJS wedge. Cards like Bleak Basin Guide and Temple Artisan suddenly get a whole lot scarier if you are Empowering twice within the same turn. Of note, the new power fetchers/players (Powerbreach Sentinel, Vapor Hut, Lethrai Courtier) take the top power card of your deck. This is EXTREMELY significant as compared to something like Seek Power which draws a random power card. When you fetch the top power card, you effectively draw a card on the turn when you were supposed to draw the power card. If you manage to swing with Powerbreach Sentinel for 3+ turns, you are pretty unlikely to ever draw a power again before the game ends, which is an important factor for why Time decks are better able to take it late this format.
A second and less obvious payoff for ramp is the Amplify keyword of the FTP wedge. With an abundance of power, you are able to amplify cards multiple times, and can often win games on the spot. Drawing two cards off Courtier Albatross or Mighty Striking to win multiple combats will often prove too overwhelming for opponents to answer. Effectively getting two Mithril Armors off Carnivorous Sauropod is also pretty busted, while faceblasting for 10 damage with Bottoms Up is an easy way to seal the game.
The last theme of note is the presence of Deadly units and their synergies. Firstly, less removal makes deadly units much, much better because 1) they are harder to deal with without removal and 2) they help deal with voltron units which you lack the removal for. More importantly though, in a deck with multiple Deadly units, they turn Dragonbreath, Icebow and Parry into Slay, Slay+ and Premium Slay. With Kerendon Steward being the best Shadow common of the set, this is definitely a theme to be aware of when drafting.
3) PLEDGE CARDS
To further placate the players who complain about power issues, DWD has released yet another mechanic to help with that. Pledge cards are excellent because they improve the range of hands that you can keep while not actually inflating the power count of your deck unnecessarily. Simply slapping the keyword Pledge onto a vanilla, or even bad, card (Surveilor, Court Mage) greatly boosts it’s play-ability (+0.5~+1.0). Pledge is also a keyword that is best on 4-5 power units because you generally know if you have enough power to play those cards right off the bat. Low cost pledge cards are slightly weaker because you might face the dilemma of whether to pledge away your only early play to hit 3 power or to hold the unit and hope to draw power subsequently. Similarly, expensive pledge cards rarely have clear cut decisions (unless you have a 1-2 power hand) and whether you should pledge a 7 drop with a 3 power hand is heavily dependent on what you draw over the next few turns. Pledge also becomes worse on premium units such as Cliffdiver Mantasaur and Loyal Falcon since you are much more reluctant to turn them into power.
It is important to remember though, that while Pledge cards counts as power on turn 1, they are NOT a reason to cheat on power. If you have a deck that wants 18 power, you should still run 18 power even with multiple pledge cards. The only time when you should cut power because of pledge is when you have enough pledge cards such that you will ALWAYS be able to pledge turn 1, but that is some ridiculously high number, and even then, you might not want to pledge your premium cards or want to play another t1 power for your Oni Ronin. As such, you should treat pledge as a bonus, something that helps you keep more hands so that you would be less likely to mull to 6 rather than a reason to cut a power for another subpar card.
Smugglers, the next step in the Market evolution, are crazy good in Draft. One of the biggest issues with the old Merchants in draft is that sometimes you end up with barely enough playables, and only run a Sigil and a trash card in your Market. Now, with 2 factions to choose from, Smugglers are much less likely to have an empty market. Moreover, the black market restriction, while a big deal in Constructed, is much less of an issue in Draft, where most of your cards are singletons anyway. The Smugglers also have generally more powerful bodies, although the Ebon Dune and Hidden Road Smuggler’s bodies leave a tad to be desired. It’s important to note that Smugglers have a slight drawback as compared to Merchants since you can’t run a Sigil in the black market, but this is hardly a deal breaker given all the other benefits that Smugglers have.
Think about how powerful Sites are in constructed. Multiply that by 10. That is probably an accurate gauge of how powerful Sites are in Draft. Sites are crazy card advantage generators, effectively drawing and playing you a card each turn that it survives. Moreover, your opponent will often need to make awkward attacks or waste removal to simply remove Sites. And even if your opponent is able to remove the site instantly, you have still gotten value off the site because 1) you’ve resolved the best agenda spell and 2) you protected another unit from said removal spell or saved your face from a big chunk of damage. Sites are basically windmill slam p1p1s in 99.999999% of packs, but thankfully, they are legendary, and so much less of a concern in draft.
Well, this is definitely an interesting format to draft, with the addition of the new mechanics and interesting cards. Perhaps a common question many people would have is power level ratings. With only 8 drafts and helping with ~20 drafts, it’s really hard for me to say anything definitive except that Shadow has clearly been lackluster, especially as a main faction. Fire has felt like the strongest faction, but that could also be a result of a new format, where drafters are still struggling to find their feet. The other TDC members seem a bit lower on Time relative to Justice/Primal, but I’m not sure if that’s the case (although there might be a slight personal bias because I have been enjoying playing the Time decks in this format). So, the only statement I’m willing to make at the moment is F>JPT>S. But again, I would like to emphasize that this is NOT a reason to force fire or to avoid shadow, as always, drafting the most open strategies will net you the best deck.
All hail our new Fire Overlords,