A PRIMER TO INVASION BOOSTER DRAFT
TAKEN FROM “INVASION DRAFT STRATEGY”
Originally published on Star City Games
December 26, 2000
Contributed by Mike Pustilnik (email@example.com) to Beyond Dominia’s archive
It's 8:30 p.m. on January 13, 2001. You are in your first top 8 of a PTQ in over a year. You went 7-1 in the swiss rounds, thanks mostly to Crosis, the Purger. You were paired down in round 8, so your opponent refused your draw offer. Because of this, all that you had time to eat in the last eight hours was a Coke and a Nestle's Crunch.
Your first pick in the top 8 booster draft was an Agonizing Demise. Your second pick was a Probe. But after you committed to black-blue, the draft started to go south for you. You think that you have enough playable cards, but you don't remember how many of them are creatures. You are about to pick your third card in the third round of packs. The big bearded guy to your left mutters, for the second time in five minutes, how "You better stay in your colors if you know what is good for you." The problem is, you have no idea what colors he is playing. You seem to remember during the second round of packs that he passed you random good cards in every color.
You look through the thirteen-card pack again. You are trying to decide between drafting your second Probe and a Vodalian Zombie. Probe is a great card, of course, but..."Five seconds!" the judge calls. You draft the Probe.
In previous draft formats, it was possible to draft a strong two-colored deck using non-allied colors. In Rath cycle, U/G and R/W were particularly strong. In Masques Block, an example of a strong deck using non-allied colors was the B/W deck championed by Dan OMS. The idea here was to use solid Rebel and Mercenary chains to swarm your opponent, and then finish off your opponent with Agent of Shauku or Dark Triumph.
However, non-allied color draft decks do not work in Invasion block. The main reason for this is the large number of gold cards in Invasion. Except for the rare Dragons, all these gold cards have two allied colors in their casting cost. Since you will not be able to draft enough playable cards without using gold cards, you therefore should aim to draft a deck primarily using cards in two allied colors: U/W, W/G, G/R, R/B, or B/U. You may or may not choose to also play a few cards ("splash") in a third color that is allied to one of your two main colors.
The exception to this is the "five-color Green" (5CG) strategy. This strategy involves the use of Green cards (such as Harrow) that provide potential access to mana of the other four colors. This allows you to draft and play any powerful card that comes your way (such as Agonizing Demise) in order to supplement your base of (hopefully) mostly Green creatures.
All of these decks have unique advantages and disadvantages. I will discuss below the U/W, G/R, R/B, B/U, and 5CG archetypes. Two-color WG decks, in my experience, do not seem to be played very much, even though Armadillo Cloak is arguably the strongest gold common - it is therefore, perhaps, better to consider G/W/U and W/G/R as sub-categories of U/W and G/R decks.
The basic strategy of the U/W deck is to defend on the ground and attack in the air. Your ground defense has three parts to it: high-toughness white creatures (Ardent Soldier and Prison Barricade), tappers (Benalish Trapper and Stormscape Apprentice), and Acolytes (Crimson and Obsidian). Against an opponent with large green creatures, that Ardent Soldier of yours is going to need a little help in dealing with that Serpentine Kavu. The underrated card Wings of Hope is just what he needs. If you are playing U/W, you should try to draft two or three copies of this card. Wings of Hope should be cast on a creature that does not tap to attack, like Ardent Soldier or Riptide Crab, so you can combine defense with offense. Alternatively, it might be wise to cast Wings of Hope on an occasionally-untargetable Glimmering Angel so that black removal or blue bounce doesn't wreck you.
You should draft tappers early and often, and you should play every tapper that you draft. Tappers can help you deal with enemy fliers and "fear" creatures (like Duskwalker and Hooded Kavu).
The Acolytes can be very powerful, but they are situational. The Crimson Acolyte is particularly strong against G/R; against R/B, it probably will die to a Cursed Flesh. Against another U/W deck, the Acolytes are weak. Ideally, you should start one of each Acolyte, and have more in the sideboard. One job of the Acolytes is to block on the ground; in this task, they can be ably assisted by a Tidal Visionary. Their other job is to protect your creatures, especially your tappers, from black and red removal spells. Finally, they can help your offense, both on the ground and in the air.
The aces of your air force are the uncommon fliers Angel of Mercy and Zanam Djinn; the former is an automatic first pick. The common fliers Tower Drake, Faerie Squadron, and Glimmering Angel are also excellent. Razorfoot Griffin is weaker than the others, but still good. The optional untargetability of Glimmering Angel makes it an excellent choice for an enhancing enchantment, especially Armadillo Cloak. Avoid playing the weak Dream Thrush if you can help it.
The powerful blue commons Exclude and Repulse are, of course, excellent in U/W, but they are in high demand, so you are not likely to get very many of them.
Consider splashing Green for Armadillo Cloak and additional tappers (Thornscape Apprentice). It might be correct to splash black for Agonizing Demise or Probe. Another good reason to splash would be for a power rare such as Phyrexian Infiltrator, Treva, or Dromar (Garciaparra?).
Compared to U/W, the strategy of a G/R deck is very simple: use large creatures to pound your way through your opponent's defenses on the ground. Three elements that can help a G/R deck win are a solid creature base, red removal (supplemented by Green tricks) and mana acceleration.
A G/R deck needs to pay close attention to the mana curve of its creatures. You should actively try to draft a deck that plays the best possible creature on turns 2, 3, 4, and 5. The best common 2 casting cost creatures are Nomadic Elves and Yavimaya Barbarian. The best 3 cc creatures are Pincer Spider and Kavu Aggressor. The best 4 cc creature is Ancient Kavu. The best 5 cc creatures are Serpentine Kavu, Kavu Climber, and Pouncing Kavu. You should make drafting Serpentine Kavu a priority, since it is the biggest, meanest, common creature around. Ancient Kavu is also important, since it is the only decent 4 cc common red or Green creature, and its ability can help you sidestep enemy Crimson Acolytes.
You should seek to draft between four and six red removal spells. The best of these by far are the uncommon Breath of Darigaaz and the rare Ghitu Fire. The commons Scorching Lava, Zap, and Tribal Flames are also good. The Green creature boosters Explosive Growth and Aggressive Urge can help you bust through your opponent's defenses. A serious weakness of the G/R deck is that an enemy Crimson Acolyte can turn off all your red removal. Therefore, splashing black for Agonizing Demise (or even Cursed Flesh?) is worth considering.
Mana acceleration is not as important as a solid creature base and red removal, but it can be helpful. Quirion Elves and Harrow can help you bring a large creature into action one turn faster. Quirion Elves are especially good since they can also attack or chump block in emergencies. I do not recommend Fertile Ground for a two color G/R deck.
The main strength of a R/B deck is its large number of creature removal spells. You also have access to the costly but effective Plague Spores. Ideally you should have eight to ten removal spells, spread equally between red and black. Thus, you can deal with either Acolyte by using removal of the other color. The creature base of a R/B deck tends to be a little shaky. Ancient Kavu is such a key card in a R/B deck that you should consider drafting it over mediocre removal such as Tribal Flames.
A R/B deck will sometimes get into a damage race using its evasion creatures (Phyrexian Slayer, Hooded Kavu, and Duskwalker). Maniacal Rage on your evasion creature can definitely help in this situation.
If you are fortunate enough to draft a Shivan Emissary, then you should consider splashing blue in order to use the other ability of your Nightscape Apprentices. I have seen this cheesy combo work again and again in Limited.
B/U is similar to U/W in that its offense is primarily in the air. However, unlike U/W, B/U is not very good at defending on the ground. Against a Green deck, a B/U deck is likely to get into a damage race against larger creatures. The strategy of the B/U deck is to use bounce spells (Repulse and Recoil) and black removal to win the race.
Because so many of the best black and blue commons are spells rather than creatures (Repulse, Exclude, Recoil, Probe, Agonizing Demise, Exotic Curse), a B/U deck is more likely than any other to be creature-deficient. Often the B/U player feels obligated to play with weak creatures such as Tidal Visionary and Dream Thrush just to bring its creature count into the double digits. A better idea might be to draft Metathran Zombies and Urborg Skeletons, which are much better at defending on the Ground. Urborg Skeleton is, generally speaking, a weak card, but at least it is good at stopping enemy Duskwalkers. Because of the B/U creature problem, drafting Vodalian Zombies should be a very high priority. All the gold common 2/2 creatures are good in the appropriate decks, but this is especially true for a B/U deck.
Probe can be an outstanding source of mid-game card advantage. Ideally, you cast it with kicker on turn 5, draw three good cards, and discard two lands that you don't need. Then your opponent discards two good cards. However, if your opponent has a fast deck, and the rest of your deck is weak, then you will not survive to enjoy your card advantage for very long.
If you end up with two or more Stormscape Apprentices, then you should probably splash white. If you do, then the normally weak Dream Thrush can help your mana consistency.
5. FIVE-COLOR GREEN
A 5CG draft deck consists of (hopefully) half Green cards, with the remaining cards split among the remaining four colors. The Green cards that give you access to mana of the other colors make the 5CG deck work. These cards include Harrow, Quirion Elves, Quirion Trailblazer, Nomadic Elves, and Fertile Ground. Harrow is the best of these, and if you are committed to a 5CG strategy, then Harrow is a first pick.
A 5CG deck can and should play all the best cards in the other colors, even if they require two different non-Green colored mana. Plague Spores and Barrin's Spite, for example, belong in a 5CG deck.
Choosing how many of each basic land to play in a 5CG deck can be difficult. You should play at least one of each basic land, so you can get it with Harrow. If about half of your cards are Green, then a reasonable mana configuration is 8-4-3-1-1 (8 forests). If you have fewer Green cards, then you might have to play more land in order to ensure that you get the colored mana that you need early on. This will increase the chance of a mana flood and weaken your deck. If many of your cards are white and blue, for example, then you might have to play 6 Forests, 6 Plains, 5 Islands, 1 Mountain, and 1 Swamp (for nineteen lands total).
One huge advantage of 5CG is that cards that depend on the number of different basic land that you control can operate at maximum effectiveness. The uncommon Ordered Migration and the common Strength of Unity are especially good, and you should try to draft three to four of these.
It's 10:15 p.m., game three of the quarterfinals. You are at four, your opponent is at six. Two turns ago you Probed with kicker to wipe out your opponent's hand, but then he peeled a Serpentine Kavu off the top of his deck. You attack with your Phyrexian Slayer, leaving your Tidal Visionary behind to chump block. The life count is now four to four. On your opponent's next turn, your Tidal Visionary takes one for the team. On your turn, you slowly draw a card. It is your second Probe. You cast it without kicker, and draw an Exclude, a Prohibit, and an Island. You discard two lands. This time your Slayer has to stay back to chump block. The turn after, you finally draw a Recoil, but your opponent has kept a land in hand, so it just buys you one turn. After that you draw a land, and it is all over.
You shake your opponent's hand, gather up your cards, and walk slowly towards the door. Next week, perhaps . . .