Hey everyone! Initially, I had this week’s article fully written out and ready to release on a click, but of course DWD had to throw a spanner into the works! Not that I’m complaining, a throwback event to Set 1 Draft is something a lot of players have been clamoring for and I’m also looking forward to some nostalgic drafts (‘member the 7 static bolt decks?). Set 1 Draft was a whole different beast as compared to Set 3 Draft, and given that some players never had a chance to draft with Set 1, I thought it would be a good idea to write a primer on Set 1 Draft. As a foreword for players unfamiliar with Set 1, one important feature is that Set 1 ONLY had multi-faction cards in the allied faction pairings (Rakano, Stonescar, Feln, Combrei, Elysian) and as such, you should always try to be in one of those 5 factions!
Speed is of the Essence!
This is probably the most defining characteristic of Set 1 Draft for me. The format was very fast, and somewhat snowbally, so getting on board fast is extremely important. Games were a lot faster as compared to the current format and missing an early game drop could easily just end the game on the spot. As such, it is extremely important to have enough early drops. For example, in the current format, you are generally happy with 6 2-drops, but you could get away with skimping down to 4 2-drops in a more late-game centric deck. However, I think 6 2-drops is the bare minimum that I would run in a Set 1 draft format, and I really want at least 7~8 2 drops to be happy with my early game. There are even decks that are happy to run up to 10 2 drops!
Cheaper is the new Better!
The speed of the format also greatly changes the evaluation of cards. As such, the latest tier list is not going to be very accurate. As a general rule of thumb though, cheaper cards become a lot better while more expensive cards become significantly worse in a fast format. For example, Pillar of Amar is extremely powerful in Set 2 and Set 3 draft because of the slower format. However, in set 1, Pillar was considered just slightly better than average, because while it is still insane if you play it, you rarely get to live to play it.
Curves in Set 1 draft are generally much lower, and most decks ran <5 5+ drops, with good 4-drops being their curve toppers. That said, you still should not hesitate to take powerful but expensive cards early. I would still first pick a Fourth-Tree Elder if given a chance, but that just means that I will prioritize low drops afterwards.
Power sinks are also rarer in Set 1 draft, so coupled with the fast format, decks often err-ed on the side of screw rather than flood. Instead of the standard 17-18 power in Set 3 draft, most Set 1 decks only ran 16~17 power, with some hyper aggressive decks running only 15 power!
Don’t be afraid to take multi-faction cards!
Multi-faction cards also are substantially better as early picks in Set 1 Draft. This is because you are at least 90% to end up in one of the “allied” pairing (Stonescar, Rakano, Elysian, Feln, Combrei). This means that you are only slightly more than twice as likely to play a mono-faction card (~40%) as compared to a dual-faction card (~20%). Multi-faction cards are also generally extremely powerful as compared to their mono-faction couterparts, with format-defining commons and uncommons like Awakened Student, Pteriax Hatchlings, Gorgon Swiftblade.
Removal good, Weapons badddd
Set 1 has an extreme abundance of good removal, with a generous helping of damage-based removal, targeted removal and combat tricks. This makes combat math extremely tricky and it is not uncommon to counter a fast spell with another fast spell. This adds a whole new layer to the gameplay experience and leads to a lot of interesting decisions as well as adding an emphasis on reading what tricks your opponent is likely to have. Having more tricks/removal is always good because of that, so that category of cards become even more of a priority in Set 1 draft.
Units generally don’t stick around long as well, even if they manage to survive combat because of powerful common/uncommon removal such as Execute and Vanquish. As such, vanilla weapons become significantly worse and cards like Crownwatch Longsword almost never make the deck. There are exceptions though and weapons with powerful summon effects or text, such as Ornate Katana or Shogun’s Scepter, are still very high value picks.
Splashing is a rare luxury
While there is more fixing available in Set 1 draft as compared to Set 3 draft, I think that the number of times that you splash in Set 1 draft is still going to be less than that of Set 3 draft. This boils down to a few key factors. Firstly, a faster format makes it much more costly to splash since you have less time to draw your influence for your splash and having a dead card in hand is so much more costly. Secondly, the higher quality of cards across the board also acts as a disincentive since you can just play the good cards in your faction instead.
Defining Characteristics of Each Faction
Now that I have painted a broad picture of the format, I wanted to go into each faction and highlight their defining characteristics and some key cards to watch out for. Note: Set 1 draft only supported this 5 faction pairings. While you can on occasion draft the other 5 (Xenan, Hooru, Praxis, Skycrag, Argenport), it is generally not advised.
Feln – Infiltrate is a scary ability
Unlike it’s constructed twin, Feln is arguably the strongest faction pairing in Set 1 Draft. The faction’s keyword, infiltrate, is extremely well-supported and nothing scared me more in Set 2 Draft then seeing a Turn 2 Lethrai Ranger from my opponent. Even with a t2 play, you aren’t guaranteed to be able to deter it. You opponent can play a Trickster’s Cloak on in to get a turn 3 6/6, or a Cobalt Acolyte to make it a 4/4 flier. Static Bolt or Suffocate on 3 to clear the way for Lethrai Ranger was also not uncommon. All in all, Feln decks are generally extremely powerful aggressive decks with scary infiltrate effects (Lethrai Ranger, Gorgon Swiftblade, Desperado), and backed up by Shadow’s premium removal (Suffocate, Execute, Annihilate, Feeding Time). On occasion, you might also be able to draft a more control-oriented Feln deck, with a deck jammed full of removal (6 static bolts anyone?) and a few powerful curve toppers.
Stonescar – More like SMORCscar
Coming in a close second, or possibly even challenging Feln for the throne, is Stonescar. Stonescar is slightly less snowbally as compared to Feln and do not have access to Feln’s infiltrate package. However, Warcries are still great, and a turn 1 Oni Ronin in draft is just as scary as in constructed. The only reason it is almost comparable to Feln in my opinion is because it was criminally underdrafted in Set 1. I’ve had decks with 3 Oni Ronins and 4 Torches, and that should just never happen. Obsidian Golem is an extremely powerful 2 drop, and cards like Ornate Katana, Oni Ronin, Torch, Rebel Sharpshooter are just powerhouses for running your opponent over. Combust is also a great card because it is an extremely efficient removal, and you often pick up Grenadin Drones in Stonescar, so it is effectively a 1-cost removal spell.
Elysian – Fliers, Fliers and More Fliers!
Everyone loves Pteriax Hatchlings, and they are pretty much the hallmark card of Elysian. Elysian decks are often very flier heavy and wins the game through the air while gumming up the ground with Time’s fatties. Having access to Amber Acolyte also made Time decks more likely to splash, and Elysian decks often liked to splash for removal from Shadow. Nesting Avisaur is also a very powerful card in this archetype as well and one of the most common power play of Elysian decks was Turn 3 Pteriax Hatchling, Turn 4 Nesting Avisaur, Turn 5 Double Hatchlings and a 3-drop.
Combrei – You either die to fliers or live long enough to win the game
Combrei decks often play the role of “control” in this format. It’s general game plan is simply to stall out the aggression from the other decks and win by playing big fatties that the opponent cannot answer. The key weakness of that strategy though, is that you often end up dying to fliers. As such, you really want fliers such as Towertop Patrols or Karmic Guardians and Dispels or other silence effects for your deck. On occasion though, it is possible to get multiple Awakened Students and simply roll over your opponents, but it is pretty unlikely, especially because Combrei doesn’t have many combat tricks or removal to supplement the aggression.
Rakano – Even Unearthly can’t save this pile
Rakano is definitely the weakest faction pairing in Set 1 Draft, but that doesn’t mean you can’t occasionally get good decks with it. The key problem being that Rakano seems to have been designed as a weapon-centric faction, but weapons are pretty bad in this format with lots of removal. You are often going to get 2-for-1-ed when you play weapons and thus, playing the faction the way the designers intended is not a good idea. Rakano decks do also want to be aggressive, and most successful Rakano decks leaned heavily on the Fire half to push damage, only relying on the Justice half for some broken weapons (such as Hammer of Might, Glided Glaive) or big fliers to close out games (Silverwing Commander, Fourth Tree Elder).
Wow, just writing this article has made me all nostalgic and filled me with anticipation for the draft event! What about you? Are you looking forward to the event? As always, let me know what you think in the reddit thread. Also, if you are unsure of a pick, #draft on discord is always a good place to go for advice!
Time to relive the past!