did my first Avacyn Restored Booster Drafts this past weekend, and I still can't believe some of the things that happened...
In my very first draft, I wound up pairing Nightshade Peddler with Angelic Wall in three separate games! And in each of those three games, that (extremely unlikely) pairing wound up being a key piece that helped lead me to victory.
While I don't expect to see myself pairing Nightshade Peddler with Angelic Wall again anytime soon (although anything is possible), my weekend full of drafting has given me a good sense of at least some of the decks we should expect to see the game's best and brightest drafting this weekend at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored in Barcelona.
Decks to watch
Keep in mind that this is far from a comprehensive list of all the decks players can—or will—draft in the format, but merely an overview of the format's early standouts.
Once players are familiar with the format's most obvious strategies and are able to hone their understandings of those decks (and many others) the format will inevitably evolve. But with only a couple of weeks of practice drafting Avacyn Restored under their belts, the best players in the world are going to have to think on their feet (just like everyone else in the world) during Pro Tour Avacyn Restored this weekend.
Cloudshift is rapidly establishing itself as one of the most important tricks in Avacyn Restored Limited. While it might not be worthy of a particularly early pick in most decks, this innocuous-looking instant is a great way to protect your creatures from removal spells, re-pair soulbond creatures, or get an extra chunk of damage out of your Kessig Malcontents.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because Cloudshift is a card that stands out in Red-White Human decks but is just another (ultimately replaceable) role player in most other decks.
In order to draft the best Red-White Human deck possible, you're going to need to be willing to make some counterintuitive picks, where you forgo raw power in exchange for synergy. Otherwise, you're going to end up with just another deck full of good cards that don't work particularly well together.
So while Thatcher Revolt might not seem very good, in a deck full of Kruin Strikers, Riot Ringleaders, Havengul Vampires (the tokens pump up Havengul Vampire when you sacrifice them), and Kessig Malcontents, it can be an absolute all-star that's worth spending a very early pick on.
While it can be difficult to get all of the pieces you need for your Red-White Humans deck to really shine, when you do get those pieces the deck is extremely difficult to beat. And even if you don't get all the pieces you need, your deck is still probably going to turn out fine.
So if you get passed a Kessig Malcontents anytime soon, you should probably take it.
If your deck is fast enough, it doesn't matter how good your opponent's cards are. You're going to win before your opponent can cast them.
Green and red have some of the best aggressive creatures and support spells in the format, so it's no wonder players all over the globe are gravitating toward this color combination early on.
While Red-Green Beatdown might not have as many obvious synergies as Red-White Human decks do, the ability to curve out with cards like Wandering Wolf, Timberland Guide, Kruin Striker, Lightning Mauler, Gloomwidow, and Druid's Familiar—and back them up with Joint Assault, Pillar of Flames, and Fervent Cathar—means you shouldn't have much trouble pummeling your opponents before they're able to get anything of note going.
It's certainly possible to draft slower, bigger, red-green decks. Sometimes the packs will dictate you have to play a deck that goes over the top of the opposition with Nettle Swine and Vorstclaw. But I suspect that, at least during these first couple of weeks, the most successful red-green decks are going to be extremely aggressive.
Black's lack of depth makes it one of the least popular colors in Avacyn Restored Sealed Deck events, and it also causes a lot of players to avoid it like it's the plague in Booster Drafts. From a lot of perspectives, black is the "weakest" color in Avacyn Restored. However, the very fact that a lot of people don't like the color in this set opens up the opportunity for opportunistic players to put together some amazing black decks.
While there might not be enough good black cards in this set to support three or four black drafters at an eight-person table, if you're the only black drafter at a given table, your deck is probably going to be fantastic. And if you happen to get a copy or two of Barter in Blood, you shouldn't have too much trouble racking up the wins.
In the right deck, Barter in Blood is an absolutely devastating card that is almost impossible to play around.
If you play out a couple of early creatures in hopes of overrunning your opponent, you can kiss your early offense goodbye when you have to sacrifice two of them to Barter in Blood. If you instead choose to wait, only committing one creature to the board at a time, you will give your opponent all the time in the world to turn on his or her most powerful cards.
Plus, you get to surround your Barter in Blood(s) with resilient creatures such as Butcher Ghoul, Driver of the Dead, and Evernight Shade.
While I, personally, don't want to shuffle up any Swamps right now, the fact that I (and a lot of people I've talked to about the format) hold such a strong bias against the color makes me think we could see a lot of people 3–0ing drafts this weekend with black decks.
If you want to play a white-blue flier deck, you're going to need to make sure you have enough early defense to survive against the aggressive red decks that have been making their mark on the format. If you have enough tools to stall the game out until you can fly to victory, then great! But if you can't survive those early onslaughts, you're going to be in big trouble.
So while Angelic Wall might not look like much—it's just a 0/4 flying wall, after all—the fact that there are so many good aggressive decks running around in Avacyn Restored drafts right now makes Angelic Wall a key piece for any deck looking to fly to victory with Scrapskin Drakes and friends.
Heck, even Cathedral Sanctifier can be a key sideboard card against decks full of Kruin Strikers, Kessig Malcontents, and other 1-toughness attackers.
As long as you make sure you have a plan against aggressive decks, and you can win before the most controlling decks in the format are able to completely take over the game, you should be able to find success with your white-blue decks. But if you're just hoping your opponent will stumble long enough for your Scrapskin Drakes to flap their way to victory, you're probably going to be disappointed with the results.
While I haven't drafted a five-color green deck in this format (yet), Abundant Growth, Borderland Ranger, and Vessel of Endless Rest should allow players to dip into a third, a fourth, or even a fifth color without much trouble.
While it's certainly going to take some effort, and some sacrifice, to pick up those Abundant Growths and Borderland Rangers, the ability to play any bomb or removal spell you get a glimpse of is a sure-fire recipe for some powerful decks.
Will these multi-colored green decks be fast enough to withstand early onslaughts from aggressive red decks? I don't know. But if you can draft your deck with good early defensive tools, an abundance of mana fixing, all-purpose removal spells, and some powerful cards to close out the game with, you should be in exceptionally good shape.
Can control thrive or will aggressive decks reign supreme?
During my early experiences with the format, I got the sense that it is possible to build control decks able to go toe-to-toe with the fastest aggressive decks in the format. After all, some cheap resilient blockers and some good removal spells can buy you a lot of time...
But will the control decks still be able to compete as players become more adept at drafting beatdown decks in this format?
To find out, check back here all weekend long as we bring you live coverage of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored in Barcelona!