Avacyn Restored draft has had its professional debut, and after six rounds there were only a handful of players who had managed the perfect 6-0. I talked to some of the best known to find out their thoughts on the format and the strategies that helped them get the sweep.
First on my list was ChannelFireball's Matt Nass, the man who lives in the center of the Venn diagram for Elves and combos.
"More than anything else, keep your curve low. As low a curve as possible. You really can't afford to do otherwise. The format is blazingly fast."
I asked him about his color preferences. "Blue is best, but really anything but black. Black can work, sometimes, but it really needs its powerful uncommons, especially Homicidal Seclusion."
Black may have its weaknesses in Avacyn Restored, but the color can work right if you can find the right uncommons to go along with it.
This was this lesson he used in his first deck, when a middle-of-pack-one Barter in Blood gave him the go-ahead to dive into black. In his second, he first-picked Fettergeist, hoping to get the best color for a second draft in a row, but his next picks were green and he never saw another good blue card, so he switched to red and played a very curvacious aggro deck.
"Another thing that makes blue so good is that you have a lot of cycling cards, like Fleeting Distraction, so you can see your most important cards more often."
With the help of a nearby Shuuhei Nakamura I talked to Japan's national frontrunner, Yuuya Watanabe. He said that he liked the format, but it's easy to like a format after you've crushed a pair of drafts.
"A very fast format. Not quite as fast as Innistrad. Maybe more like Magic 2012. Blue is the best color but blue is always the best color." Here he laughed. "Mist Raven and Wingcrafter are the best commons. I got two of each in both drafts. It was very good."
Yuuya Watanabe's picks for the most powerful blue commons.
I asked him about any strategic advice he might have, and one thing jumped to mind for him. "There aren't as many playables. Lots of junk cards that you never want to play. And this is in all the colors. What this means is that if I ever have to choose between a creature and a spell, I'm choosing the creature every time. It's okay to have only a few spells, but you have to have creatures.
"Also important are your two-drops. Never have fewer than five." His drafts reflected this, first blue-red, and then blue-black.
Lastly I caught up with Gaudenis Vidugiris just as he finished winning another match of Constructed. He and his teammates on Team SCGBlack had done a lot of drafts in playtesting, and the most significant result for them was the power of White-Red Humans "It's hard to get all the pieces to come together, you need to table Thatcher Revolt, but when you do the deck is unstoppably powerful. It's almost like a combo deck. The good thing is that even if you don't get it, your White-red deck will end up as a decent aggro deck."
Vidugiris did just that, overrunning people with Kruin Strikers and Riot Ringleaders. "The strength of red and white is why one-drops are so playable. Everything's got one toughness so you can trade with them easily. Things like Cathedral Sanctifier, you don't even need synergies to make it worth playing."
I asked him what all that says for slower decks. "Slower decks, you can do that, but you have to have a plan. Especially for things like green soulbond creatures. If you don't give enough credit to the aggressive strategies, you're going to lose."
I asked him about black's position as the worst color, and he agreed but said that black has some very real decks. "People have mostly caught on to the power of Homicidal Seclusion, but there's a lot there even without it. Cards like Bloodflow Connoisseur, it looks really unexciting on the surface, but with the way the cards work together, it's really powerful. Bone Splinters, too, it's good and doesn't get a lot of credit. You know back in Time Spiral Mike Hron went into it planning to force black because no-one liked it and he won the Pro Tour, so I had that in the back of my mind in case the cards were there."
My last question was about Watanabe's mention of the shortness of playables, and he agreed. "The other thing it does is it makes it hard to switch colors just for a bomb. In other formats you could open some bomb in the second pack and take it and you'd have enough cards that it would carry you. I don't think you can do that here."