Theorycrafting Draft Decks: Xenan Mandrakes

When Empire of Glass falls and fades from memory, as all Empires do, this author will lament the parts of the kingdom that went unexplored: the bogs, swamps, and thickets where Mandrakes reside.

Mandrake decks have occupied a space in the back of my brain from the format’s outset. The draft community collectively recognized the power of these decks but found them to be inconsistent both during the draft and gameplay. It seemed like you needed good enablers, worthwhile payoffs, and to draw them all in the right order for the deck to be good: Magical Christmasland, if you will.

If there’s one big thing I’ve learned about my approach to draft this year, it’s how strongly I gravitate towards decks that provide inevitability. Essentially, decks that say “if this game lasts 25 turns, I know which one of us is going to win it.” I’d much rather be Thanos than The Flash while drafting.

Theorycrafting – the act of trying to solve problems by thinking of them in the abstract or with minimal information – is a useful tool for evaluating and learning a draft set. There’s no substitute for actually drafting decks and playing games because formats often play out very differently than you’d think reading each card individually, but theorycrafting is often useful nonetheless.

Early in the format, I spent a good deal of time trying to theorycraft EoG’s version of Feln Control. Xenan decks based on cards like Fatal Misstep, Humbug Nest, and Leyline Tracer were my first thought experiment but the decks quickly led nowhere when I tried to actually draft and play them. Theorycrafting only goes so far.

You won’t find a blueprint for drafting Xenan Mandrakes in this article. Honestly, I’m not even sure you’ll want to draft Xenan Mandrakes when you’re done. The goal isn’t to convince you of its power level or teach you how to draft it. Instead, we’re going to talk about how to find the inevitable in a draft format. Let’s take a look at the mad science of theorycrafting. Let’s Talk Limited!

Beating the Format

Theorycrafting a deck with inevitably (i.e. control deck) requires an understanding of the threats you’ll be facing. In Argent Depths, for example, the most common early threats were Flameheart Patroller and Chainwhip Bludgeoner, so any controlling gameplan that couldn’t neutralize those threats weren’t worth pursuing.

Empire of Glass’ biggest threat was obvious from the start. Like many of you, I’m a little sick of seeing and talking about it, so let’s invent a new card: Marinade Masher. We’ll make this saucy boy a reckless 5/5 with some kind of downside: you discard a card when you summon it.

Xenan Mandrake decks, if they were going to be successful, would have to answer the question all EoG draft decks have to answer: How do you beat Marinade Masher?

Mandrakes vs. Marinade Masher

First things first: forget about the rares. Our goal is to draft this deck consistently, so factoring in rares doesn’t help.

For now, we’re even going to ignore the uncommons.

If the commons can’t contend with the format’s likely threats, then we needn’t go any further. Feln Control had Valley-Clan Sage, Hearty Warrior, and Wisdom of Elders in between to not only stop threats but start generating card advantage. One of its most important pieces, False Demise, is also a common. So – how do Xenan Mandrakes fare against Marinade Masher?

For those keeping score, 5/5 is larger than 3/3. This power level discrepancy feels more significant early in the game – like on turn 3. However, Marinade Masher’s discard clause means we can block it with two units, trade them all off, and still be even on resources, so let’s add some more units to the battlefield.

Overdrawn Harvester – Let’s not overcomplicate things. Playing a second one of these allows you to block profitably. Now we’re in business.

Darkwater Vines – The card that really ties the room together, man. One reason Xenan Mandrakes is hard to build consistently: multiple Darkwater Vines aren’t essential but highly recommended. One inexplicable fact: DV still goes insanely late in draft, making it possible to get 3-4 in a draft deck. If you play this on turn one or two, Marinade Masher will trigger the ultimate and make it a 2/1. A 2/1 regen and a 3/3 plant can block a Masher profitably. Now we’re talking.

Pollensprayer – Doesn’t trade with Marinade Masher when paired with Overgrown Harvester. A serious flaw. That being said, it blocks most units effectively and can be shockingly relevant in a long game. Not great, but acceptable. Note that this buffs all units, not just Mandrakes.

Vinepetal Creeper – Below average. Nearly unplayable.

Shoaldredger – Who knows what this will cost when you cast it? Whatever the number, it’ll be a lot lower if you have multiple DV in your deck. Drawing the Dredger to trigger Vines is a beautiful sequence.

Gameplanning around playing two 3/3s is the height of Be Boring, but the math works out favorably every time I put it in the hypergeometric calculator. Two 3/3s beat a 5/5. A 2/1 and a 3/3 get the Masher off the board.

The commons don’t like up well against Marinade Masher anywhere on the curve individually, but combining multiple commons can lead to even resource trades or possibly favorable exchanges. A very good sign for a theorycrafted deck.

The Problems

Aurelian Mandrakes

Both Xenan and Elysian Mandrakes ideally want a play on turn 1: Darkwater Vines or Little Seed. There simply isn’t enough fixing to build Aurelian Mandrakes that can cast either of those cards on turn 1 consistently. Plus, the most desirable Primal mandrake, Root Ripper, is double Primal so it’s not like you can splash that faction easily. All told, I lost hope for three-faction mandrake decks early on. I’m sure they can come together once in a great while but it’s wildly unlikely. And Feln Mandrakes is a disaster most of the time, as its uncommon, so Mandrake decks should usually be Xenan or Elysian.

Two-drops

Mandrakes have common 1-drops, 3-drops, 4-drops, 5-drops… and a massive hole in the 2-drop slot. You can’t curve out with mandrakes on turns 1-3 because they don’t exist on turn 2 at common. The 2-drop slot is the most flexible spot on the curve for Mandrake decks and really depends on the makeup of your deck (i.e. how many Shoaldredgers do you have?). We’ll review some options a little bit later.

Uncommon Mandrakes

See how much I wrote without even mentioning Vine Grafter? I’ll go ahead and give myself a pat on the back.

Vine Grafter

Look at any draft-legal Eternal unit. Now imagine it had +1/+1 and Regen. Much better now, right?

Vine Grafter just does it all in this deck. Fills the two-drop Mandrake slot, trades with other two-drops TWICE, triggers your ultimate synergies, and can turn average cards into bombs.

Goliath Flytrap

We don’t really want to play the common mandrake 4-drop, so upgrading to Goliath Flytrap is massive. It ultimates automatically with an extremely relevant ability, plunders, and can profitably block Marinade Masher with any other reasonable unit.

Invasive Creeper

I feel pretty strongly that this card should be maindecked, not put in your market. I’m not “don’t put Reflection in your deck” levels of confident, but I’m fairly certain maindecking Invasive Creeper leads to a higher win percentage in the long run. Let’s talk about why.

If you put Invasive Creeper in your market, chances are your plan is to grab it with Vine Grafter, draw a card, and create a 3/2 regen (or buff another unit that’s already in your hand). That’s not a bad sequence.

But let’s look at the alternatives. Let’s say Invasive Creeper is in your opening hand, so you have a generic 2/1 that didn’t draw you a card. Gross. Casting 2/1’s for three power is a good way to tank your win percentage. But after it’s on the battlefield, what does your opponent do with it? If they leave it there, and you’ve built a functional Mandrake deck with Ultimates, the Creeper slowly becomes one of the most relevant units on the battlefield.

There are some games where you play a 2/1 for three power and then it does nothing, so the floor is very real and should be acknowledged.

Now let’s look at some good scenarios with commons plus the creeper.

Turn 1 – Darkwater Vines

Turn 2 – Something irrelevant. We’ll say Amber Lock.

Turn 3 – Invasive Creeper (didn’t draw a card because it was in your opening hand)

Turn 4 – Pollensprayer

Turn 5 – Mandrake Simulacrae, Ultimate, trigger Invasive Creeper & Pollensprayer.

The above sequence leaves you with the following units:

  • Darkwater Vines: 3/1 Lifesteal + Regen
  • Invasive Creeper: 4/1 Lifesteal
  • Pollensprayer: 3/5 Lifesteal
  • Mandrake Simulacrae: 5/3 Lifesteal + Decay

When you’re eventually going to have an army of lifesteal units, you can afford to take some damage early on. Your opponent could play a 2-drop into a Marinade Masher and you can still take that damage and come back from behind.

Now we’ll visit Magical Christmasland with some uncommons.

Turn 1: Darkwater Vines

Turn 2: Vine Grafter

Turn 3: Invasive Creeper

Turn 4: Goliath Flytrap

Turn 5: Activate Vinegrafter, hopefully have a way to spend remaining two power. Fatal misstep, for example, would be bonkers because it Darkwater Vines would also trigger.

Turn 6: Huge Flying Regen monster.

So at the end of Turn 6:

  • Darkwater Vines: 3/1 Regen + Lifesteal
  • Vine Grafter: 4/2 Regen + Lifesteal
  • Invasive Creeper: 4/1 Lifesteal
  • Goliath Flytrap: 5/5 Lifesteal
  • 5/3 Flying, Regen, Decay Hookblade Infuser

In this sequence, the Creeper triggered twice on turn 5: Once for Goliath Flytrap, once when you activated Vinegrafter.

Venomous Nightshade

Works well with Invasive Creeper and makes a deadly Little Seed if its Ultimate triggers. With these in my deck, I’m more likely to put a Devour in my 2-drop slot with the hope of sacrificing a Darkwater Vines or something with Killer and then getting it back.

Shoal Stirrings

You probably only need one. Maindecking two feels risky, especially if you have multiple Shoaldredgers in your list. Recurring buffed units is definitely part of the plan, but you also have generically good cards like Nectar of Unlife and Triumphant Return to help with that.

Rares

Vine Tangler

The Thanos of Mandrakes. Vine Tangler is not a beatable card in a functional Mandrake list. It was completely absurd when the Ultimate cost 7 but is by no means out of reach at 9. Remember: we’re trying to build a deck that inevitably wins the long game. I’m fine playing a game that lasts 20 turns and getting to 9 power eventually. And even if you never get to trigger its Ultimate, a personal mandrake factory will go a long way towards winning games as well.

Shadowcreeper

Shadowcreeper Ultimates, kills a creature, fills an important slot on the curve, and even triggers Darkwater Vines. Enjoy!

Variations

Shoaldredger

If multiple copies of the big plant monster is your deck’s win condition, load up on Darkwater Vines and units. Avoid cards like Medibot Station that make units but aren’t units themselves if you can. Only very good non-units should make your deck.

Vine Grafter Market

When I see Vine Grafter, I switch to “Build-my-own-Rare” mode. Part of the reason I’m so averse to grabbing Invasive Creeper with Vine Grafter is because I don’t want to get a small value unit that draws me a card, I want a huge flying beater to pummel my opponent. Make a huge monster, recur as necessary, win.

Shoal Stirrings*

We’re getting further into theorycrafting, but I imagine there are very powerful versions of this deck that run two Shoal Stirrings as a win condition. Again, I prefer to recur my units with more flexible cards like Triumphant Return or Nectar of Unlife. Building around Shoal Stirrings hasn’t worked out well for me the few times I’ve tried it.

Draft Pack Standouts

You’re not looking for Mandrakes in the draft packs. You’re looking to fill deck roles with enablers (i.e. cards that say “Ultimate”) and interaction.

Sunset Priest

Fire up the hypergeometric calculator again. Sunset Priest and the Darkwater Vines it triggers trade with Marinade Masher. A priest and Overdrawn Harvester block favorably. Also makes your Shoaldredgers better when played or in the void. Even though it doesn’t say “Ultimate,” this card does a lot in Xenan Mandrakes.

Time Monsters

Mandrakes are understatted for their costs with the expectation that they’ll be buffed at some point. Problem is, that can take a while in some games, leaving you with a board full of mediocre units. I’ve found putting 1-2 Powerbreach Sentinel or the like at the top of my curve can help stabilize, present an individual threat, and buy some time.

Two Drop Ultimates

Xenan Mandrake decks struggle to find relevant two-drops, so building decks that can play and trigger these units helps immensely with enabling Mandrake synergies.

Interaction

The premium shadow removal spells are always plan A, but Xenan Mandrake decks make excellent use of cards like Predator’s Instinct and Teleport since part of your plan is to Ultimate units, recur them from your void, or both. Finding the balance between units and relevant spells is one of the main challenges of decks with multiple Shoaldredgers.

Putting it All Together

Reader, I so wish this article could conclude with firm recommendations and a formula to draft Xenan Mandrake decks consistently. Life hasn’t allowed me to draft nearly enough to move beyond theorycrafting into practice. The Xenan Mandrake decks are busted when they function – I think most of us agree on that. The big question is whether or not they could be drafted and played with any degree of consistency. That question, sadly, will likely go unanswered.

The goal of my writing is almost never to give readers concrete answers. It’s to present information that improves the way people think about limited. I was a little nervous about spending so much time on only a few individual cards in Drafting Empire of Glass the Hard Way, but an overwhelming amount of the feedback indicated that people really enjoy reading about the process and I’m all for that. Here’s the process that led me Feln Control in Argent Depths, has me endlessly intrigued by Xenan Mandrakes in EoG, and I’ll apply to Eternal’s next draft set when its released.

  1. What are the most common threats in the format? This includes both individual cards and play patterns.
  2. Can the deck I’m trying to build stabilize against those threats using only commons?
  3. How do I guarantee that I win the late game?

If you can answer those questions, you’ve theorycrafted a good deck! But those decks don’t always come together in practice for a myriad of reasons: key cards are prized by other drafters, shallow card pool, lack of redundancy, and the list goes on. Eventually, I was consistently successful with enough Feln Control lists that I felt comfortable writing a guide – but that’s not the case with Xenan Mandrakes. These decks have mostly been constructed in my head. In practice, I’ve drafted great Mandrake decks and absolute trainwrecks. The reason I’ve spent so much time thinking about Xenan Mandrakes is because I think the answers are out there. I’m fairly sure there’s a way to draft it consistently but never figured out how.

A general word of caution to drafters: make sure you’re not dismissing decks too quickly. In good draft formats, the difference between the good archetypes and the bad ones isn’t that significant. If you mentally file Xenan Mandrakes or any other deck as “Unplayable” when really they’re just harder to draft or have a higher fail rate, then you won’t know how to draft those decks when they’re glaringly, blindingly wide open in your draft seat. You shouldn’t go into a draft planning to play Mandrakes (or any deck), but the most prepared drafters know how to draft everything – even the decks that aren’t available very often.

Please, for the love of sanity, do not try to draft Xenan Mandrakes for the first time at the Draft Open. It’s challenging to play, very difficult to draft, and I’m not even telling you that it can be drafted consistently! I’ve mostly just thought about it! So please, this is not an endorsement to try Mandrakes this weekend.

Draft Open

Draft Tournament time!

Direwolf announced and implemented some significant changes to the Draft format prior to this week’s Draft Open. These changes brought an influx of “bot packs” that seem to be filtered out of the system by now. That means the games you play this week will be a better indicator of the format as a whole than the games you played last week. Now that decks don’t have piles of rares and an embarrassment of premium commons, we should get a sense of the format’s speed heading in to next week.

I reached out to the brave souls who drafted after last week’s changes to get any relevant information about the new format. Thank you so much to Cotillion, HatsonLamps, BeardBroken, Olorin, Abednego, Grgapm, MercurioBlue, and Patomaru, whose words and ideas I’m either directly or indirectly stealing for the following segment.

Speed of the Format

With the pack order reverted back to EoG, Curated, Curated, EoG, the format is faster than it has been for the past month. Aggressive decks are very strong right now (author’s thought: that’s usually the case at the beginning of a format) but it remains to be seen how much the format will slow down by next week.

Be very wary of Feln:

“This is all theorycrafting right now, but I would think that getting into feln in pack 1, on the strength of the good mandrake cards, would be a trap. You still have Spore-Spitter and Rosebloom, but some of the support cards like Raven and Sporebreath are gone. Spitefeeder is the only mill card that was boosted (unless I’m forgetting something) and I’m never thrilled about filling in deck slots with Spitefeeders.” – HatsonLamps

Cotillion posted a 7-win Feln decklist shortly after this conversation and offered these insights.

  1. The format is very fast right now
  2. Cheap and early interaction (Darkwater Vines, Razorbot, Ghastly Perfume) is essential.
  3. Shoal Stirrings was a great finisher (I saw at least five good targets in the list: Spore-spitter, shoaldredger, Forbidden Tree, Mandrake Simulacrae x2)
  4. Having two Maveloft Huntresses is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

So yes, you can draft a 7-win Feln decklist but the cards pulling you in that direction should be Maveloft Huntress power level cards.

BeardBroken had success with Feln prior to the pack changes and offered the following (referencing the previous format, so might not be 100% accurate after pack changes but hopefully still useful):

“Decks usually felt like a mish-mash of divergent synergies. Primal’s got some soldier and amplify matters cards, a few grenadin-related cards that also play into sacrifice a bit, mill synergy in the curated packs, relic matters synergies in the curated packs…Shadow’s got sacrifice and mill synergies as well. Feln’s interaction was pretty excellent in the format prior, having a wealth of ping effects for all the 1 hp threats and relatively efficient large removals in Biting Winds, Grisly Contest, and to an extent, Fatal Misstep. Depending on what synergies you have and enable in a given feln deck, their threats could end up pretty hefty as well – Rosebloom Mandrake & Shoaldredger in the mill packages, Maveloft Elite in the amplify ones(edited)

for the relic-related synergies, Corrupted Greed was a pretty nice curve threat if you could enable it with stuff like medibot stations…which in turn help fuel cards like Grisly Contest

As for fast spells feln could make use of, it gets pretty interesting. Hardiness in conjunction with Maveloft Elite & Quartermaster is quite spooky on the combat math and card advantage front, Grisly & Biting Winds offer different ways to remove threats for 3 mana, Fatal Misstep serving as a partial essence scatter that activates Darkwater Vines/feeds the Shoaldredger/Spore-Spitter/Rosebloom Mandrake/Other void recursion…and on the card advantage front there’s Devour if you have the food for it and Wisdom if you were lucky. If you’re splashing red, you do get access to stuff like Mortar & Mighty Strikes as reach in the curated packs, which is cool.

overall I guess I’d say feln could be pretty tricksy in terms of it’s ability to answer a spectrum of threats and also greatly benefitted from a surplus of powerful curated pack cards, downside being feln also involved a lot of potentially disjointed synergies.” -BeardBroken

Wretched Raven has been reduced from x10 to x1 in the Curated packs*, and my understanding is that some of the other mill synergies have been nerfed as well. In general, my advice is to stay far away from Feln decks this weekend unless you’re already comfortable drafting them.

*Thank you to Reddit user Oboshan9 for alerting me of the error in my original publication

Schaab’s theorycrafted thoughts on the Send to Market Nerf:

I’d still play two in an Argentport midrange list. It’s possible I’d still play one depending on my Rakano build but I definitely don’t want multiples now, whereas I would’ve been happy putting two of them at the top of my curve when it cost 5.

Looking Ahead

This weekend’s Draft Open should be a blast!

Yours truly was a guest on the Friends of Eternal podcast to talk Draft this past week, and this recent episode of Farming Eternal has some excellent strategy discussion, particularly regarding pauses.

Best of luck to everyone who is competing this weekend! Try to have fun. Almost no one plays better when they’re stressed or irritated. Take an extra five seconds before you make your plays. Draft Boring – Play Extraordinary.

Happy Drafting!

-Schaab
Draft Enthusiast, Valley-Clan Sage Fan Club President, Transcriber of Advice from Others.

You can contact me with comments, feedback, or coaching inquiries at BeBoring@letstalklimited.com

My content is a labor of love to help others get better at draft that will always be free. Writing gives me significantly less time to grind gold, so all contributions are used to fund more drafts. The best thing you can do is help other people (draft is really hard) but financial support through donations or the Patreon is always appreciated. Thank you!

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