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Lessons from the Modern Horizons Prerelease


I usually don't have much interest in $40 drafts, but Modern Horizons Limited is going to be the format at Magicfest Seattle in two weeks, so I decided to stop by the prerelease. I wasn't able to make the sealed event, but I was able to play in two drafts on Saturday. I ended up with two incredibly strong decks and went 6-0 in matches and 12-1 in games. A good portion of that was luck, but I did come away with some insights that may be helpful to others, so let's dive in.

First Draft

My first draft started out with Battle Screech over Astral Drift, Trumpeting Herd, and Mob. My second pick was Settle Beyond Reality followed by a (foil!) Marit Lage's Slumber as a speculative third pick. However, Blue wasn't really flowing and I was solidly in Green/White by the end of the first pack. I raredrafted a Silent Clearing as my first pick in pack two followed by another Battle Screech. I picked up a couple of Rhox Veterans and then got passed a third Battle Screech early in pack three.

The resulting deck had three copies of five different cards, ran only 15 lands, and consisted of only 13 distinct nonland cards. It felt in some ways like a constructed deck, even though it was drafted at an eight-person table from a set that has 254 cards. (Drafting multiple copies of cards was much easier in triple Coldsnap drafts.)

My last cuts were:

  • Nantuko Cultivator: I already had enough four-drops, and unlike the others, it couldn't be used to pay for Battle Screech's flashback.
  • Wing Shards: With the large number of four-drops in the deck, I wasn't expecting to be able to keep mana open to cast this very often.
  • Silent Clearing: I'm not certain that this should have stayed in the sideboard, even though I was only playing white, but I figured that my deck needed to be able to stay alive until it could get its game plan online.

I faced a Blue/Black/Red deck in round one that was splashing white. Round two was against the drafter to my right who'd also somehow drafted a Green/White tokens deck! I split round three, but we decided to play for fun and I won both games.

Lessons from this draft:

  • Battle Screech and Rhox Veteran are both obviously amazing, but they're even better together.
  • Despite costing five mana, Settle Beyond Reality is excellent removal. The fact that it exiles your opponent's creatures was relevant against creatures like Mother Bear, and the ability to flicker your own creatures allows you to reuse enters-the-battlefield effects and get rid of removal auras like On Thin Ice, Reprobation, and Winter's Rest.
  • My deck didn't really start humming until it got to four mana, but that didn't feel problematic. There are a lot of solid aggressive decks in this format, but if you have enough early creatures/removal to hold the fort, you don't need to be able to win quickly.
  • I was running Collector Ouphe as just a bear, but his ability was useful on a couple of occasions. In particular, unlike many similar cards, he does shut down mana abilities of artifacts.

Second Draft

I started my second draft with Trumpeting Herd, took Enduring Sliver out of an unexciting pack, and then Trustworthy Scout out of an even less exciting pack. The fourth pick was where it got interesting. The pack had another Trustworthy Scout and a Fact or Fiction and little else of interest. I decided to take the Trustworthy Scout, both because they're better in multiples and because I wasn't sure whether four-mana card draw was playable in this format. A friend pointed out later that a fourth-pick Fact or Fiction probably meant that Blue was open, and that my White cards at that point were not all that exciting, which was a good point.

Luckily, a fifth pick Man-o'-War provided an even clearer signal that Blue was wide open, especially when followed by a sixth pick Fact or Fiction and another Man-o'-War seventh pick. I also drafted another three Trustworthy Scouts, well above the average even in a ten-person draft. The final deck was Blue/White with 16 lands.

This deck wasn't quite as strong as the previous one, but I still went 3-0 with it, largely on the back of the trio of Man-o'-Wars and the pair of Settle Beyond Reality.

I faced a Black/Green sacrifice deck in round one and a monoblue deck in the second round. I forgot to offer a draw in the last round and faced a Green/White deck. I lost my first game of the day to a Murasa Behemoth that I couldn't deal with after expending two Man-o'-Wars and a Settle Beyond Reality on smaller creatures. But I drew three Man-o'-Wars and a Settle Beyond Reality in game three, and that's an especially unbeatable sequence when you're on the play.

Lessons from this draft:

  • Man-o'-War is incredible, especially in multiples. It combos well with Settle Beyond Reality since you can exile one creature and bounce another. It also works well with Knight of Old Benalia and Rhox Veteran since they turn the 2/2 body into a faster clock.
  • I was very happy with the trio of Windcaller Avens. In addition to letting me run 16 lands, it was a great way to allow Moonblade Shinobi to get through without spending a card, it allowed Rhox Veteran to attack in situations where he might not have been able to otherwise, and it gave Eyekite +2/+0 a few times. There were even a few times when I just cast it as a big flyer to finish the game.
  • I was impressed with Martyr's Soul. It was either a 3/2 on turn three or a 5/4 on turn five or six, both of which are reasonable options. If my other creatures were able to attack, I would usually cast him as a 3/2 even if I could cast him without using mana. If my other creatures were defending, a 5/4 makes for an excellent blocker and I would have had mana left to cast another blocker or two, which makes up for having to tap my previous defenders.
  • I'm not convinced that Fact or Fiction is great in this format. I felt that it didn't do quite as much as the Winding Ways in my first draft.
  • I should have played the Snow-Covered Plains maindeck, to represent having Reprobation or Winter's Rest in the deck.

Conclusion

The removal in Modern Horizons is excellent, but there are a number of Common creatures like Rhox Veteran and Murasa Behemoth that seem stronger than most of the removal in the set. Another reason that removal isn't quite as powerful in this set is the presence of cards like Battle Screech and Trumpeting Herd that produce multiple creatures.

In addition, Pacifism-style removal auras are worse than in regular sets. In addition to Settle Beyond Reality, there are a number of other flicker effects like Ephemerate, Astral Drift, Blizzard Strix, and Soulherder, an excellent protection spell in Shelter, bounce spells (including Man-o'-War), and enchantment removal. Ninjas let you return unblocked creatures to your hand, Black and Red have multiple ways to sacrifice creatures for profit, and Green/White tokens can pump out more creatures to replace the ones neutralized.

As in the previous Masters sets, there are archetypes spanning every color pair (except perhaps Black/Green), instead of five as in most regular sets. The upside is there are more options in a draft. The downside is if someone else chooses the same archetype as you, you're both likely to end up with subpar decks since most archetypes don't have enough cards to support two drafters.


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