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If you have been qualified for the Mythic Championship or you just really wanted to prepare for the planeswalker-filled WAR Pre-release Grand Prix in London, you might have been in the same situation as myself and fellow Mage teammates. We drafted with a proxy Cube since the day they released the last card.

What is Proxy Draft?

Testing a set before it is out

Proxy draft basically means you print out several copies of the entire set, and then assemble what might seem like a random distribution of commons, uncommons, rares, mythics and in this case Planeswalkers. This is a time-consuming affair, since you need make a file that contains the amount of cards you need, you need to print them out, cut them off their sheet and eventually put them in sleeves with a bulk card. Simon Nielsen was up to the task, and since we were 8 Danish players qualified for the MC, we organized a draft weekend in Copenhagen. Our goal was to draft at many times as possible, which in our case was 7 times total.

It can be pretty hard to grasp a formats speed, which cards are good in a new setting, and how the games turn out in general under these circumstances. There are some indicators with the distribution of power and toughness and other measurements, that people use to evaluate things. This is not something I use much mental energy on, at least not before later in the process, once I actually played with the cards enough times, to get an understanding of what is up and down.

What WAR Draft is about

It’s not only planeswalkers

Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God from War of the Spark

Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God from War of the Spark

However, for this set/draft, we have a bunch of planeswalkers, even at uncommon. On top of that, the removal suite seems like it has eaten its vegetables, because it’s way better than what we have been used to lately.
Normally when there is a lot of removal, we get a few more slow-paced games, where it can sometimes be correct to be on the draw. Put planeswalkers into that mix, and I’m pretty sure that if you are a bit familiar with drafting in general, you would assume that these games are slower than usual, and they are indeed.

Another assumption one might jump to, would be that because of the many planeswalkers, they will what the games will be about. I thought so too, but when we started playing, it became clear that while some of the planeswalkers are indeed game changing and strong, they were never too good. Many can only activate twice, and then just have their static ability left, which in most cases is annoying, but doesn’t win.

Ranking the Uncommon Planeswalkers

This was new to us, and after some games and deck talks, we came up with the following ranking of the uncommon planeswalkers.

The impact machines

Arlinn, Voice of the Pack
Kaya, Bane of the Dead
Vraska, Swarm’s Eminence

The three of these all have in common that their minus ability greatly impacts the board. Multiple tokens with deathtouch or 3/3 stats are very good. Getting to kill 2 of your opponent’s creatures, even through hexproof, was huge as well. Especially since the planeswalker doesn’t require much build-around to be good. Vraska in particular was known in our testing to dominate the board in almost every game.

The value grinders

Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor
Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage
Jaya, Venerated Firemage
Tibalt, Rakish Instigator
Angrath, Captain of Chaos
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer

What we found out was that a lot of games are determined by how much value you gain throughout the game. This meant that the more damage the planeswalkers could suck up, and the more they do the turn they enter, the better they are, with creature making or killing as the best abilities. This might not come as a shocker, but there is a huge difference between making you opponent discard two card or making two devils that kill a lot of creatures, compared to giving one of your creatures a +1/+1 counter.

The role players

Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted
Nahiri, Storm of Stone
Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner

These three where also great cards, but they had a bit of a different role, since you mostly play them for their static ability, which makes the cards a bit more situational, but also even more powerful, if you can set it up.

Nahiri is used for the first strike punch, since red has a lot of 4/3 creatures. Pair them with green and their big creatures, and it will be hard to overcome the rampage, since most colors have small creatures in general. If you remove a tapped creature on top of that, this planeswalker can be very good.
Kiora is somewhat similar. While Nahiri is mainly good in red, Kiora is almost solo green. The untap ability can be a good ramp spell, but to make the planeswalker insane, you need to pair it with the green power 4 creatures – then you get to play them a turn early, give them pseudo vigilance and draw a card. Lastly, Kiora enters the battlefield with 7 counters, which enables it to suck up quite some damage before it dies.
Ob Nixillis is a fun card, because it is so uncommon that you want to kill a creature, but in the process give your opponent a draw 2 spell. However, on a big board with small creatures it can be game changing to kill you opponents two best creatures. And while it is irritating that they get to draw, they will still on average draw a land and a spell that might not impact the board much. You can also kill your own 1/1 amass army to draw two cards, which in some spots can be powerful. And lastly, like Nahiri and Kiora, Ob Nixilis has a static ability can be what wins you the game. If Ob survives to kill two creatures, it deals 5 damage to your opponent. Without an answer, their life total will go downhill from there.

Regarding the Rare planeswalkers, we didn’t really get to play with them enough to draw a good conclusion based on very few games. I will say though, that the Sorin planeswalker underperformed a lot. The plus ability was somewhat irrelevant, and you need some good creatures to make the static ability work really well.

Stack the board and grind

Riding the value train was never so important

Enter the God-Eternals from War of the Spark

Enter the God-Eternals from War of the Spark

If you read between the lines a bit, you might have figured out my thoughts about the format. It’s slightly more value oriented than what we are used too. The best comparison I can come up with, is putting it next to Hour of Devastation in terms of game speed and grind potential. And a couple of things that came with that conclusion, were the fact that amass is a pretty cool mechanic that is both strong and works well in the games. But when you use a bunch of resources on one creature, essentially putting all of your eggs in 1 basket, then you set yourself up to a massive blowout that often will lead to a loss. This made all the cards that just accidentally had amass on them, like creatures, card draws and removal, into great cards. Whereas the whole amass strategy, where your entire gameplan is to just make a 20/20 as fast as possible, seemed like a bad place to be at.
Normally a 2/2 and sometimes a 3/3 would be a perfect amount, and then when on the offense, you could grow it to a 4/4 or 5/5 and surprise your opponent with a different board then they accounted for in their turn.
This gets me to the power and toughness. A lot of the creatures can block profitably as 2/3 or 3/2. Then we have a bunch of 4/3 and 2/2’s as well. What became clear quite early, was what a powerhouse a 3/4 was on the board and 4/5 was pretty much unkillable, if you weren’t playing against green, or sucking up a prime removal. This makes Enforcer GriffinEnforcer Griffin one, if not the best, white common and a card like Tithebearer GiantTithebearer Giant a very good one, instead of a medium filler.

Rating the five colors in WAR Draft

Surprising to no one, most of the games were a bit slower than usual, but it wasn’t totally dictated by the planeswalkers. So let’s take a look at what we thought the different colors did and what the archetypes were.

White

God-Eternal Oketra from War of the Spark

God-Eternal Oketra from War of the Spark

Starting of with what we considered the worst color. White is pretty narrow, since It has a mix of aggressive cards and controlling cards. That said, some of the white cards are pretty good individually but the synergy just isn’t there. So its role is mostly supportive with removal and a couple of creatures.
White shines in UW, where you get a couple of flyers and removal to deal with your opponents ground creatures. The proliferate cards and Trusted PegasusTrusted Pegasus work well in the green white proliferate deck, to make your deck gain some reach.

Red

Ilharg, the Raze-Boar from War of the Spark

Ilharg, the Raze-Boar from War of the Spark

The red cards are like the white cards a bit split in 2 camps. Some of the cards work really well in spell heavy or synergistic decks, and then there are some uncommons and rares or removal that will just be good in any red deck.
The red cards go into what I consider the best archtype, which is UR spells, where you get to use almost all of your red removal, planeswalkers and rares to their fullest. Red can be paired with all of the other colors, however we saw them at their worst in Boros.

Black

God-Eternal Bontu from War of the Spark

God-Eternal Bontu from War of the Spark

Black is a deep color that has a great mix of planeswalkers, removal and creatures. Where the 2 colors above have 2 plans, most of the black cards can be in one or another. Having some random amass on a lot of cards makes them good, but also a bit controlling. The good planeswalkers having a double black casting cost makes black a nice color to be invested in. Black gets really good with Blue, since you get a lot of good planeswalkers and draw spells, while you can go a bit heavier on amass than the other pairs. Red gives you a bunch of removal, pairing it with planeswalkers can be a good strategy if your deck works out.

Green

God-Eternal Rhonas from War of the Spark

God-Eternal Rhonas from War of the Spark

As always, green gives us big creatures and this set is no different. However, as I wrote earlier, everything with 4 toughness is great, 5 toughness is almost unkillable – this makes a lot of the green creatures better and bigger than what we are used too. Having 4/5, 6/5 and 7/6 in your deck is way better than in other sets. Even with amass being a thing, just turning big creatures sideways is definitely a winning strategy. Green works well with black as a 4-color control deck, where you play all the good BG cards and then splash for a couple of blue and white cards. If you are a bit more proliferate heavy, it’s good with white.

Blue

God-Eternal Kefnet from War of the Spark

God-Eternal Kefnet from War of the Spark

Blue is a very good color and might even be the best color in this Draft format. A lot of your creatures not only amass, but do something on their own, like giving other amass tokens flying or just having flying themselves. On top of that, blue has a lot of good cards in general that also work well with the synergistic decks. What blue however lacks, is the ability to straight up kill a creature or planeswalker. This makes It ideal to pair with Red or black as its support color. Red has planeswalkers and a lot of removal and black offers good cards in general and some good multicolor in Dimir. You can fashion these decks either tempo-based or full control. With Aid the FallenAid the Fallen and Tamiyo’s EpiphanyTamiyo’s Epiphany and all of the combined Grixis planeswalkers, you have a very strong pool of cards that can give you value and basically deal with everything you will face.

Signing off

The Archetypes of WAR draft

Dreadhorde Arcanist from War of the Spark

Dreadhorde Arcanist from War of the Spark

That was it for today, hope it will help you start out drafting WAR in the next couple of days. Lastly I’ll rank what I see as the best archetypes to draft and then we will see if time will tell me if I was wrong!
Until next time – open some Lilianas and see you all at GP Copenhagen!

UR – Spells
GB – Green 4 color good stuff
UB – Amass and Value
RG – Classic creatues and pumpspells
GW – Big creatures and evasion
RB – Removals and planeswalkers
BW – Uncommons, removal and planeswalkers
UW – Flyers and Value
UG – Big creatures and proliferate
RW – Quick rush

 

This article was written by Michael Bonde in a media collaboration with mtgmintcard.com