Attempting an Actually Helpful Early Analysis of Amonkhet Draft

Stating the obvious: I have not played with this set yet, I just read the spoiler carefully a few times. However, I have an excellent track record of judging the dynamics of a new draft environment, so I trust that I will not be too far off in my assertions.

This is how I expect Amonkhet draft to shape up:

Speed: Slow

The fastest decks will be less fast than those in most other draft environments. However, the power level of midrange cards is high enough that Amonkhet draft will not be an extreme durdle format. You might not die on turn 4-5 too often, but you still need to prepare a solid defense if you do not want to die on turn 6-8.

Correlation between rarity and power level: Average

This correlation has been quite pronounced for quite a while now, and Amonkhet neither bucks this trend nor stands out as extreme.

Frequency of nearly impossible to beat bombs: Lower than average

“Can be beaten” does not mean “fair”, though. Amonkhet‘s bombs are still hard to beat, and a slow environment means that they will get to influence games more often.

Synergy rewards: Higher than average

This is certainly not an environment where you just take the generally strongest card, but it’s not as extreme as some others.

Manafixing: Slightly better than average

Evolving Wilds and a renamed Shimmering Grotto at common is twice the amount of non-green fixing many other sets get, and with Amonkhet being slow and not requiring double-colored mana too often, Painted Bluffs looks reasonable to me. (Note also the synergy with Naga Vitalist.) Green specifically offers a lot of fixing, and cycling really helps to smooth draws and find splashed lands. A not base-Green deck will probably still not want to go above two and a half colors, but should be able to do so with good consistency. For Green-based decks, however, I guess you can go up to five, although actually having to run a basic land of each type to fetch might not work out in your desired spell/land ratio overall, and if you mill yourself or get milled, you might lose access to a splash color that way.

Mana ratio: Average

Of course, cheap cycling cards generally allow you to cheat a little on the number of lands. On the other hand, though, you will often want to support more than two colors; you really want to get to 4 and 5 mana fast to not fall prey to the strong midrange cards of this format; and you have quite a lot to do with your mana. In the end, I think you will end up with a default of 17 lands just like in a generic draft environment.

Importance of generic two-drops: Low

The importance of two-drops, even if they were just the lowly Bronze Sable, is continously being underestimated by players, including pro level players. Amonkhet, however, looks to me – for the first time since Icannotremember – to be a set where generic 2-drops are actually really bad, being slow and not needing early creatures for synergies like comvoke or vehicles. But then again, there aren’t even many generic 2-drops in this set! It’s still important to acknowledge, though, that curving out in the early turns is less important than usual (although you should still at least be able to sideboard early plays in).

Importance of medium big creatures: Average

You mostly need them to keep up with your opponent’s medium big creatures, and to draw out removal from your opponent, but you definitely need them.

Importance of evasion creatures: Higher than average

Amonkhet has not much evasion, and the ground will tend to get stalled. Don’t go overboard, though – if your midgame creatures have evasion, and your opponent’s are big, you’re probably not winning. Better cut lower mana slots instead.

Importance of big finishers: Higher than average

It’s a slow format, so they have time to come online. Also, because the medium big creatures are dangerous enough to draw removal, your finishers have a better chance to stay in play. Oh, and since many expensive creatures have cycling, you can afford to play noticeably more of them than usually.

Quality of “small” removal: Average

There is some reasonably efficient removal for creatures with low toughness, but it suffers from being more situational than it would in other sets, since creatures tend to come back and/or be big. Magma Spray is obviously still very good, but you really should consider taking less efficient, but also less situational removal spells over it, because there will be big creatures that need killing.

Quality of “big” removal: Below average

Killing something big costs at least four mana in Amonkhet, probably five, and you will have to rely heavily on uncommons to do it.

Quality of combat tricks: Average

Note, however, that the value of combat tricks tends to go down rapidly in slower formats. I do not expect many combat tricks to be particularly high picks in Amonkhet.

Importance of artifact removal: Low

There are just not many artifacts around which need to be killed. On the other hand, there are no less than three common artifact destruction (or exiling) spells with cycling, so the cost of including one in your maindeck is also quite low. You don’t need to, though.

Importance of enchantment removal: Average

There are more enchantments than artifacts at all rarities, and they also tend to have more impact on the game. Unfortunately, there is very little enchantment removal to be had – essentially, you need to be white (at least as a splash). With games going long, the chance that an enchantment will have a strong impact on the game increases, but all in all this isn’t a dedicated enchantment set, and you might get by without enchantment removal. I still advise you to snag one if there is a good opportunity, though.

The preseeded draft archetypes:

WB – Zombie tribal.
WG – Exert midrange
WU – Embalm midrange
WR – Exert aggro
BG – Counterbased midrange
BU – Cycling-based control
BR – Discard-based aggro
GU – Resource accumulation control
GR – Fatty midrange
UR – Instery-based midrange

…and, of course, good stuff multicolor Green!

This got already longer as intended (as always…), so I’ll stop here. I hope I gave you a good starting point to explore this new environment. Good luck with your Amonkhet drafts!

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14 Comments on “Attempting an Actually Helpful Early Analysis of Amonkhet Draft”

  1. Interessting insights as usual, will see the accuraccy starting monday when it goes live on mtgo (assuming no bugs like in cube..)

  2. pretty sure you are massivly wrong! beats is what i always see here

  3. revised my assesment over the weekend with 40 more drafts done, at the beginning i was mostly seeing beats (first statement was after 10 drafts, second after 50 total).

    • Ah, the good old “It took me 50 drafts, but now I’ve come to agree with Zeromant’s initial impressions of the format!”

      • well it could be that after 200 drafts the result is different again, since neither samplesize is statistically significant…also I am still not sure which impact the drafting out of pod has on what opponents you see, e.g. do aggro decks mostly win r1 so if you mostly win r1 then your view gets scewed etc…sounds like a job for Frank Karsten to disect this (since he also is probably one of the few ppl who wotc would give access to this kind of data)

        • I think that in the very early stages of a new draft format, you can get a seriously skewed picture. For one thing, that’s the time when a large mass of really casual players dominates the queues (leagues). More generally, it’s the time when both single cards and whole strategies are still being grossly misevaluated. This leads to some colors or archetypes being underdrafted, and generally to winning decks being stronger than they should be if everyone had a better grasp on the power level of cards.

          An especially good example of this was Scars of Mirrodin, where people at first reported big successes with metalcraft and infect strategies, but soon found that those approaches lost a lot of appeal once everyone realized which cards or synergies were good. So, when things had settled down a bit, the format became a lot more about grinding card advantage and creatures which were good on their own. (As I had predicted.)

          WIth Amonkhet, I cannot see quite as clearly where all the hype for red-based aggro came from – people (and even pros) were talking about it, but it just didn’t show up anywhere I looked (and I did watch a LOT of videos and streams). So, my observations fit my theories essentially since day 1, and I got really confused whenever someone talked about Amonkhet being a fast format. (Just as I did back in Zendikar times when some people claimed that this was a slow format.)

          My explanation is that red removal was underdrafted early at many tables, and that this created a couple of especially impressive fast decks which colored the perception of some players or groups. The deck lists I’ve seen on Twitter all were typical examples of the kind of overpowered decks you will only get very early in a format with any frequency – e.g. 3 Magma Spray, 2 red Trials, 2 Electrify, and additionally all the really good red creatures plus a bomb or two.

          Once people realized that Red in general is strong, that removal is (as always) picked to be highly, and that you still cannot win games in limited without a board presence even if a format is on the slow side, these hyperaggro decks probably ceased to exist.

          Of course, there is aggro in Amonkhet (note my list of preseeded archetypes), but you have both more time and better chances to defend against it than in most environments. You cannot spend your turns 2-5 all on cycling and drawing cards while your opponent casts creatures and expect to win, but you can get to the lategame with a reasonable effort often enough.

          Since my predictions are, by definition, based on theory alone, I look at the cards through the lens of how powerful they actually are, not how powerful they might be perceived to be by the majority of players in the early stages of a format. Thus, it makes sense that it will take some time for the real metagame to catch up to the state of balance that I envision after the under- and overdrafting of colors / strategies corrects itself.

  4. interesstingly the circle is coming true again, now everybody seems to be drafting midrange to durdly long game decks, last 4 drafts i got passed insane white aggro cards

    • Yes, there is such a thing as a limited metagame cycle, although it’s never as pronounced or as reliable as in constructed where people copy deck lists. In the end, draft is still a lot about figuring out what is underdrafted at any specific table – or at least, that is how it is for the good drafters, but not for the majority, who do not adjust their current preferences based on the dynamics of their current draft tables, thus creating underdrafted colors/strategies and this shifting metagame in the first place.

      Pros going on record saying stuff like “beatdown is the way to go” or “5-color control every time!” etc. encourage many drafters to pre-decide on archetypes and skew a table’s distribution away from an equilibrium. However, predicting and describing a format’s speed can obviously only mean addressing that ideal state of balance.

      BTW, I might have underestimated the impact of rares on this format. My guess of “average” already meant I expected it to be pretty high, since that is the default, but I’m now getting the impression that it may actually be above average.

      • currently watching GP Richmond coverage, the commentators describe AKH draft as fairly fast and aggressive, and the games i saw so far agree, do you think it’s a function of pros having different preferences than the rest and being covered more or actually the case?

        • also one aspect i like in this format is in the Gxx ramp deck you actually can easily splash most double coulored cost spells because of gift and vitalist giving you double colored if you fix for one mana of it effectivly

        • Didn’t get to watch Richmond coverage today before the semi-finals. The games I watched there were not exactly fast, although there sure was a lot of attacking with big creatures.

          Looking at the top 8 lists from the 3 GPs this weekend, as well as the 3-0 draft lists from GP Bologna (now that is a great resource!), there emerges an abundantly clear picture of Amonkhet draft being a midrange format. There are a few real aggro decks (ususally RW), and a few distinguished control decks, but the large bulk is about board presence with big critters.

          Now, exert obviously favors attacking, so that happens a lot, but big creatures which only attack every 2nd turn are not what a fast format is about, and even games between decks with exert creatures go rather long, because both blocking and interaction via removal or tapping happens. I write down that aspect of the format as what I expected.

          What I do not see very often, though, is splashing in nongreen decks; and green-based decks in most cases do not go beyond three colors. While it isn’t inconceivable that players just haven’t gotten around to build these decks yet, it seems more likely that the pressure to not fall behind on curve makes them just a little too clumsy. This might also be partly due to the existence of quite a lot cards that can finish longer games if you already got some damage through.

          Amonkhet is still a slower than average format, though. Slow – unless taken to the extreme – does NOT mean that you do not want to attack, or that it is a great idea to skip many turns without affecting the board. Sandwurm Convergence being not only playable, but extremely powerful is all the proof one should need to realize that this is not a fast format, but it’s also not quite so slow that you can just shove that 8-mana enchantment into any deck and be content to cast it on turn 12 after playing a normal game. You have to work for your lategame cards, but that is a reasonable goal in Amonkhet.

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