On August 29th, something very special is coming to Magic Online: Khans of Tarkir Flashback Drafts. Triple KTK is considered by many to be one of the best limited formats of Modern Magic, but for those who weren’t around in its heyday, it can be fairly daunting to plunge into a new format with only a week to enjoy it. That’s why this article provides all the necessary tools to prepare you for your first KTK queue next week. And for those who remember this set as fondly as I do, it’s a quick refresher.
Splish Splash I Was Taking a Bath
Khans of Tarkir is centered around the 5 three-color enemy wedges: Abzan (White, Green, Black), Jeskai (Blue, Red, White), Sultai (Black, Green, Blue), Mardu (Red, White, Black), and Temur (Green, Blue, Red.) Two color decks exist, and four and five color decks exist, but most of the synergy is found in one of these five wedges. It’s important to understand this up front since this will impact how you can stay flexible in this environment. If you start off the draft with two blue cards and two white cards, you might think “I heard that KTK is a three-color format, so I’m still open to be UWR, UWB, or UWG." In fact, there is only one wedge (Jeskai) in this format where blue and white cards belong. If, instead, you started a draft with two white cards and two red cards, you would have the option of being either Jeskai or Mardu, which leaves you a lot more flexible down the line. While your three color decks should still probably be base two colors with light touches to a third, there is an abundance of fixing.
There is a cycle of 10 ETB tapped lands at common (yes, actually at common, not those fake news commons from M19. I’m not bitter, you’re bitter.) There are also ETB tapped enemy wedge lands at uncommon, as well as a cycle of 3 CMC mana rocks for each wedge, though these were not great and often went very late in the draft. In fact, the power level of this format is so high that a very viable strategy was to just take fixing out of the first pack and spend pack 2 and 3 taking the most powerful cards available to you. But I’m getting ahead of myself talking about draft strategies. There’s still one very important feature of this format to discuss.
Let’s Talk About Morphs Baby
Morph is a really fantastic mechanic for limited. Creatures with Morph have a normal CMC, but also can be played face down for a morph cost of 3 as a 2/2 creature. They will then also have an alternate cost to be able to be unmorphed, that is, turned face up.
Morph costs can be paid with mana or, in some cases, by revealing a card in your hand. There are also some creatures that give you a bonus for being morphed, incentivizing you to play it face down rather than cast it from your hand face up. In terms of gameplay, morph occurs faster than instant speed. It's not something you can respond to. If you're new to this format, I recommend having a list of all the morph creatures in the set by your side while playing. Think of them like a new set of combat tricks to learn. When people have morphs in play, think about the different creatures they could be and what that means for combat. It is important to know, however, that no creature in the set can ambush a 2/2 for less than 5 mana. So if your opponent has a morph up against your morph in combat, they can’t outclass your creature for an unmorph cost less than 5 because it doesn’t exist in the set. 5 is the magic number for unmorphing. Also, since this is a format of three mana 2/2’s (at least temporary 2/2’s),
Debilitating Injury is a very strong removal spell.
Speaking of removal, it’s not great in this set. Other than Injury and a delved
Murderous Cut, it’s either conditional or expensive. Such hits as
Singing Bell Strike will have you looking at
Dwindle like it’s
Swords to Plowshares.
But the creatures are powerful, so you need ways to interact with them.
Savage Punch and
Arrow Storm are some of the better monocolor ways to interact, and the cycle of charms (notably
Abzan Charm) offers some of the best removal in the set.
One Wedge at a Time
I’m going to take you through each of the five decks in the format. In each of those decks is a keyword mechanic that embodies what that deck is trying to do. I’ll be mostly focusing on commons and uncommons since those are the meat and potatoes of every limited deck.
Abzan - Outlast
This is my frontrunner for best deck in the format, so I can’t think of a better one to start with. It will come as a surprise to no one that a deck with the mechanic “Outlast” is going to to appeal to my grindy, late game sensibilities. Outlast is a mechanic that allow you to pay a cost, tap a creature and add a +1/+1 counter to that creature. Important safety tip: Outlast operates at SORCERY speed.
+1/+1 counters come up a lot in this format and there are a number of cards that give bonuses to creatures that have counters on them:
Mer-Ek Nightblade, and
Tuskguard Captain. Because outlast is such a slow mechanic, this deck does play for the long game. You want to amass a board of creatures, grow them, and reap the benefits from your creatures that care about +1/+1 counters. Oh, and if you have the opportunity,
Duneblast is an absurd magic card and I encourage you all to cast it.
Jeskai - Prowess
Yes, once upon a time, Prowess was not evergreen (actually, I think it’s no longer evergreen. Boy was that fast!) By now, the theme of “spells matter” for blue and red is old news. Jeskai in KTK is no different. You’re looking for creatures that have prowess (
Seeker of the Way,
Jeskai Elder are some of the best) and spells to trigger those creatures (
Feat of Resistance,
Master the Way for example.) The actual prowess theme seems more concentrated in Blue and White with Red bringing some removal or aggressive additions with its Raid cards.
Mardu - Raid
Raid is a bonus attached to spells that only happens if you attacked with a creature this turn. If you ever needed to be trained to play your spells post-combat, Mardu is the deck for you. This deck is looking to beat down to enable Raid triggers on multiple creatures to get ahead and stay ahead.
The deck can also go wide, perhaps with the help of
Hordeling Outburst, or
Take up Arms, and then reap the benefits of some mass pump effects. Folks who have drafted or played against the dreaded RW go wide deck in M19 will be no stranger to effects like
Trumpet Blast or
Rush of Battle. Mardu also offers a Warrior subtheme, which is contained almost entirely in white and black, the best two color deck in the format.
WB Warriors is an aggressive streamlined deck, taking advantage of the Raid triggers from both colors and such warrior synergy cards as
Chief of the Scale,
Chief of the Edge,
Raiders’ Spoils, and the aforementioned
Rush of Battle. This is absolutely the fun police of this format. I imagine that during this flashback week, this deck will take a lot of people by surprise who are looking to do some sweet multi-color shenanigans.
Sultai - Delve
The Delve mechanic is responsible for a lot of cards that ended up being banned or restricted in some eternal formats (looking at you
Dig Through Time and
Treasure Cruise.) Delve allows you to exile cards from your graveyard instead of paying for the colorless requirements to cast a spell. This is a powerful mechanic but, in limited, difficult to abuse for multiple spells. You want to look out for cards that incidentally fuel your graveyard like
Scout the Borders,
Bitter Revelation, and even
There are number of fantastic cards that if you can even make just a mana cheaper are well worth it. The two biggest payoffs at common are
Hooting Mandrils and
Sultai Scavenger, but don’t discount goodies at uncommon like
Become Immense, and cube staple
Temur - Ferocious
Coming off of M19, Ferocious will feel familiar to folks who have played with
Sarkhan’s Unsealing or
Colossal Majesty. Ferocious is a keyword that gives bonuses to creatures or spells if you control a creature with power 4 or greater.
Alpine Grizzly may seem odd in a format where everyone has access to colorless three mana 2/2’s, but a cheap way to enable ferocious is nothing to scoff at, especially in conjunction with a spell like
I don’t have a lot of memories of sweet Temur decks, and I think this is a fairly straightforward archetype. My only tip here is to remember that you can trigger some ferocious cards by flipping up a morph to suddenly have a four power creature, but there’s not much else. Large creatures + ferocious matters = smash!
Five Color Morphs
Did you really think I wasn’t going to recommend some kind of multi-color nonsense deck? My personal favorite deck in the format, if it can come together, is 5 color morphs centered around two cards:
Trail of Mystery and
Both of these cards provide so much value for unmorphing your creatures. I have fond memories of decks with upwards of 17 morph creatures and a ton of fixing and just going off with these two enchantments.
Ghostfire Blade is a fantastic addition to this deck as well and a card that you should seldomly pass in this format.
There are so many fun and exciting things to do in this format, and this article is meant to just scratch the surface. There’s a
Villainous Wealth of paths to go down when you open your first pack, and I hope you take a chance to see what KTK has to offer!