Magic: the Gathering – Drafting M20

So, same as last year, I picked up a box of the latest core set from Magic, because while Throne of Eldarine looks very pretty, I can’t say I’ve seen enough to draw me in past the hydra-turtles. Usually for me that’d be enough, but finances are what they are.

M20 has a very particular theme. Actually it has several, elementals, goblins, birds, wolves, knights, the recurring leylines and cavaliers, a conspicuous return of Theros favourites and temple-lands, and a definite lean towards the commander format, all shine through in the setlist, but there’s a bias here that’s impossible to ignore, especially when you reach the list of red cards.

While each colour has a Planeswalker to represent it, red has three, all of whom are Chandra Nalaar at varying stages of her rise to power. Four of her key spells immediately follow in the set list, and much like with the return of the Theros cards, it rather feels like a nod to Magic’s future, as the upcoming TV series by the Russo brothers is expected to be heavily centred on the pyromancer.

My Deck

A quick reminder on how to draft cards if you weren’t already familiar.

Here was my first draw:

Unusual to grab a land as your first card, but scrying is a useful mechanic no matter the deck, and it does set the colours for my deck… so I was hoping. Unfortunately both of my opponents were keen on white and black, seemingly both throwing in a healthy dose of green just to scupper me. No one went blue… at all, until I started coming up with some beguiling options:

Ok, so I guess I’m building an elemental-heavy deck, I’ll put these with a collection of my red picks, heavy on the goblins to supplement the goblin deck I’ve been assembling. Surprisingly it wasn’t too difficult to assemble a synergistic draft based on the Temur colours: red/blue/green, and something that does what those colours do well. The deck I ended with filled the ground with creatures that support and feed off one another.

Lavakin Brawlers make the Creeping Trailblazer far more daunting, Scorch Spitter and Scampering Scorchers make it cheap and easy to bulk up the bonuses on each, and having drawn a Ripscale Predator and some goblins, it wasn’t too hard to make a rather daunting red-heavy deck, with green and blue supporting heavily.

The Game

I’d like to say that I won… we played four games between three players, of which I think we each won a game, but most of my experience was brief moments in which all of my horrible elementals worked together to swing for tremendous amounts of damage… before losing it all after one glorious push and dying horribly before I could rebuild. Overgrowth Elemental helped give me a drop of durability, and those Cloudkin Seers made it easier to keep a hand together and make plans round to round. But it took a genuine balance of good luck on my part and bad luck for my opponents for me to squeeze out a meaningful win.

Feral Abominations held me at bay, giants with deathtouch always blunts someone’s will to dive in to slaughter, and Griffins made it hard for me to slip flying through to their life totals. I was also facing down some green giants like Silverback Shamen and Thicket Crashers that dealt with a lot of my bigger nastier horrors, and while they left the battlefield for trying to get in my way, they took some of my teeth out as they fell.


I like M20, and while I didn’t see many of the more interesting cards come out of my booster box I did pull Gargos, Vicious Watcher for whom I have the perfect deck, and Yarok the Desecrated who I immediately fell in love with for the sake of the mechanics, lore, and the colour combo that suits my playstyle to a tee… and yet still very easily traded away. While Yarok was right for me, one of my opponents pulled this:

Based on the colours I’d just put together, how could I not?

Now, Omnath howls Commander to me, and while I have about half a deck built in front of me, I still have a long way to go. I think there’ll be some awaken spells from Zendikar added to bolster the ranks of elementals from my land pool to make Omnath all the more powerful, maybe some flicker mechanics to have him bouncing in and out, some more land-draw effects to ensure that landfall ability of his comes into play.

I also foolishly passed on the Lightning Stormkin as a friend would benefit from having her in a wizard deck, and I’ll need to keep an eye out for a Thunderkin Awakener, and there’s a host of other mechanics that I’ve been mulling on that could really support a Commander. Apparently the Yarok deck I pitched against myself is already completed… guess I have some catching up to do.

Board Game Literacy

We know how to “talk” computer games, the cultural explosion has led to a host of acronyms and words entering common parlance among video gaming circles on a day to day basis, a grounding for internet language as a whole. Most of us understand terms like FPS, TBS, MMORPG, freemium, and we know what “early access” means, at least half the time (plenty of good early access stuff out there guys, don’t hate).

As the board game renaissance alters the face of its own market, monopolising the world of crowdfunding, becoming bigger, more elaborate, and more prolific, we’re noticing more and more that genres are emerging from common mechanics and themes. They’re some important things to pay attention to if you have intention to design a board game, or even if you’re intrigued about the nature of board gaming. Here’s some of the words I hear thrown around more and more commonly:

Deck Building: Amongst my favourite genres of board games and one I plan to have a crack at creating. Players typically begin with a simple deck of cards comprising those that do one thing and those that do another, and often one is more useful at the start of the game than the other, but may prove increasingly useful as time goes on. Cards are acquired from a “run” of cards pulled from a much larger deck that each player uses to improve upon the decks they already have that will prove ultimately useful in completing some grander goal, like defeating an opponent, defeating other players, or just accruing points to have the most at the end of the game.

They’re great games for people taking their first fumbling steps into the world of “bigger” board games. The deck you start with is incredibly simple, and everyone starts with roughly the same opportunities to gain in power, so experienced and new players often have the same odds of winning.

Examples: Dominion, Star Realms, DC Deck Builder, Hogwarts Battle

Draft: Begin with a hand of cards but don’t get used to having it, you pick (usually) one and pass it around, slowly but surely building towards your final goal. This one’s a popular format for breaking into a new CCG like Magic the Gathering, as everyone starts on a roughly even playing field without the vast stores of their collection to draw upon, which naturally makes for a well balanced board game format as well.

Some of these games are not so great for new starters, as familiarity with the contents of the cards will help massively, and if complex mechanics are involved there can be an awful lot to remember in your first game, but with only a little experience you can rapidly become as competitive a player as someone who has played a thousand times. The hardest part becomes deciding whether to take something that benefits you, or that screws over the person you’re handing your cards to.

Examples: Citadels, Sushi Go!, 7 Wonders, Great Scott!

Push Your Luck: More often than not a format found in dice games, where you have a finite resource (often life) that you can wager to take another stab at a repetitive mechanic that will score you points, or leave you with nothing. The dice giveth and the dice taketh away, and in their most simple format the question is as simple as “will you keep rolling?”, or “will you flip another card?” but can go into complexities of holding or abandoning territories, holding resources or exhausting them.

These games are often simple enough that anyone can pick up and play no matter their experience level with games of their type, as the only hard part is deciding when to hold and when to fold. The problem with Push Your Luck formats is that they can often lead to some players being left woefully behind while others race ahead, and while chance can occasionally balance the scales, it’s nothing you can think your way out of, you just have to keep trying and hope.

Examples: Zombie Dice, King of Tokyo, Incan Gold, Dungeon Roll

Worker Placement

You have a wide range of actions that you are capable of in any given turn, but you are limited by the locations of your team of workers. Move them to wherever you need them most so that they can grant you abilities to advance your progress to victory, some will gather resources, others will use them for special actions, you may be able to deploy workers to create new ones, or destroy the workers of others and inhibit their progress.

Games involving heavy levels of worker placement are often complex and inadvisable to new players, although their are a few stripped down versions that can act as a soft introduction to the concept. For experienced board gamers they can be deeply involved and engrossing games that can occupy a day of gaming alone.

Examples: Alien Frontiers, Village, Photosynthesis, Ankh Morpork