By Dom Camus on January 24th, 2006 · Filed in Limited · Comments not available just now
"Ten-nil, ten-nil, ten-nil, ten-nil," sang my cat. She dropped her controller and did a quick victory lap of the lounge and then ran out through her catflap. A minute or so later I looked over and Patron of the Nezumi was still sitting on the sofa, controller in hand, looking glum. The TV was still on and the cat's perfect match record was sitting there as a mute testament to the fact that Patron of the Nezumi sucks at Soul Calibur.
Taking pity on him, I sat down next to him on the sofa.
"Don't bother," he remarked glumly, "you'll just end up owning me too."
"Pat," I put my arm around him, "I'm not over here to play you at Soul Calibur. I came over to check you were OK. Man, you look so glum. It's just a game. Don't play it if it annoys you."
"Meh, it's not the game," Pat put down his controller and sighed, "it's the cat. It just makes me so mad that she's better than me at everything."
"Aww, c'mon Pat, that's not fair! You're a big fat attacker, you can come into play earlier with that whole offering thing and you've even got some combo potential. What's not to like?"
The art for Patron of the Nezumi was based
on Peyo's original Smurf village.
"Yeah, I'm fat alright," Pat moped, looking down at the impact of a particularly hedonistic holiday season on his waistline. "I guess I just think too much about what might have been. Back when you wrote your first article on MTGSalvation the three of us were like a team. I appeared twice in the same article. I finally felt like I was someone, y'know? But then the cat appeared again and again and every time in the forums everyone was all - 'Ooh, I like the cat!'. And you win all these awards and all the hot chicks want to get in your pants. But what about me? I guess I'm nobody after all."
"Fame's not so great, Pat... and this isn't even real fame. But if it's what you want I'd be happy to put you in another article. Would that cheer you up?"
"I guess, but what could I do?"
"Draft, Pat. The cat doesn't do drafting. That could be your thing."
"Oh I dunno. I know how to draft, but I kinda suck at it."
"That's ideal Pat. That's absolutely perfect."
So that was how it started. Patron of the Nezumi and I sat down in front of the pooter and fired up Magic Online. We did quite a few drafts and after a while Pat started to get a bit better. He'd read plenty about draft on the internet before, but to begin with he didn't really know how to apply any of it. I have heard it said that Limited requires less practice than Constructed. That may be true for an experienced player encountering a new block's Limited format, but it certainly isn't true for a new player who's never drafted before. Practice matters.
That's not exactly what I'm here to talk about, though. One of our practice drafts went horribly wrong for Pat but the discussion we had afterwards touched on some important and interesting ideas. I'll come to those in a minute, but first let's go through the first pack worth of picks.
To get the most out of this I strongly recommend you note down your picks as you go. Both Pat's picks and my comments are in the spoiler cuts, but don't look in any of them until you've drafted all the packs. Let's get going!
Pat had no trouble cutting this down to four cards: Savra, the Guildmage, the Shell and the Imp. He correctly set aside the Imp quite early before eventually deciding in favor of of the Dimir Guildmage.
In my view this is probably the correct pick. According to Ken Krouner it's quite possible to first-pick Savra and build a whole deck around her. However, it's a big risk. A 4 mana 2/2 is not that hot, so you need to get good use out of her abilities. Your deck still needs to be strong even when you don't draw her. Also she commits you early to Golgari, which isn't ideal. Lastly, you scoop to Saprolings.
The Shambling Shell is also a possible pick here. It's a very respectable first pick. However, it's too fragile to be great in the early game and abusing it in the late game often comes at the expense of many draw steps, which makes it risky. Additionally, you need a threat for the Shell to augment, which is sometimes limting. For these reasons, the Guildmage comes out slightly ahead.
Did you notice my quick KK namedrop there? We famous writers like to do that. In fact, I've actually played him at Magic and he's a really nice guy. Round 2 of a Magic Online draft. He plays first and accidentally clicks through his turn without playing a land. And not only is he able to see the funny side, he actually forwards the chat log to StarCity - it appeared in their end of year roundup that year. Personally, I really respect that. But I digress. A lot.
Wizened Snitches has to be the pick. This card was so underrated when it first came out, but now people have begun to... Haha! Had you worried there for a moment! Obviously Last Gasp. When Ravnica first appeared a few people took the time to explain in short words why Last Gasp was good. I tend to feel it was pretty redundant even at the time, but if you haven't got it by now there's really no hope.
Moroii is the pick. You may be wondering what the point is in doing a Ravnica draft walkthrough right when Guildpact's coming out. At least, you should be wondering that. Well - it's not really about how to draft Ravnica. There's a specific idea which I'm interested in discussing which I think will make more sense if you've just messed it up. Not that all of you are going to mess it up of course. I happen to know most of the top pros in the world of Limited read my articles, they're just way too cool to actually comment in the forums. That's fine with me. You clean up at the Pro Tour or a GP and you earn the right to say nothing any time you feel like it. Also you have to realise that reading Magic articles is kinda like sex. MTGSalvation is this curvy chick with a big butt - great fun, but your friends will still tease you for getting involved because it's just not fashionable.
This is the kind of pick which makes draft interesting. There we were feeling all smug about our third-pick Moroii. We'd mentally planned out the rest of our unstoppable Dimir aggro deck and chalked up another four packs. Four? Well obviously. At any given point there should only be a few online who actually want to play in the 8-4 queue. It's nothing to do with the prizes either. The only reason for wanting to play in the 8-4 queue is if you're shooting for a really high rating and therefore need the better standard of opposition. Reason is, suppose you're a 1900-rated player playing against someone rated 1800. You'll still lose about 1/4 of the time, which means you only make the finals half the time. If the rating gap is any smaller it gets worse fast - and of course almost everyone risks running into a higher rated player. In the 4322 queue by contrast you'll make the finals almost every time if you're any good. The sheer quantity of weaker players makes it a near certainty. On average: more packs.
Oops, sorry, digressing again. Pat made a real mess of this pick. He thought out loud for far too long about the possibility of switching into White. He then panicked when the timer started beeping and grabbed Vindictive Mob.
I imagine many of you picked Flight of Fancy, but in my opinion the correct pick is Centaur Safeguard. And this is where a little explanation is required. We started on U/B early. If U/B flows smoothly for us then two things will happen. First, we'll end up with more playables than we need. Second, we probably won't want to run Flight of Fancy because we'll have better options.
So the logic behind Centaur Safeguard is that we're buying insurance. Moving into White is nuts, because we lose all our (good) picks so far unless we do something evil to our manabase. But moving into Green we can do. More on this topic in a moment, let's make some more picks...
It's a pretty clear Tidewater Minion here. Pat took Peel from Reality because he still doesn't understand that he can easily pick them up later. This is a key point about drafting which players misunderstand again and again. If you're faced with two playable but non-essential cards neither of which you want in multiples then don't take the one you think is more powerful. Take the one which everyone else is picking higher, because you might not see one later. The same approach applies to buffet lunches, incidentally, but that falls outside the scope of this article. Nobody first-picks sausage rolls.
Consult the Necrosages or Lurking Informant? That's a tricky pick for U/B. Pat takes the Informant. I take the Consult, but only because by this point I've got half an eye on not drafting U/B at all.
We don't spend much time arguing about the pick. Instead, we argue about pronunciation. Pat insists on saying "Necrosages" to rhyme with "sausages". Even worse, he's worked out it annoys me which only makes him determined to do it more. But this is good in a way; it means he's starting to cheer up.
Incidentally, if you suggested Golgari Rot Farm for this pick I think you're probably wrong, but I really respect your out-of-the-box thinking.
Pat takes Voyager Staff and I take Golgari Brownscale and smile as my plan pays off. Pat is puzzled, so I explain:
"This pack barely had any good Green in it. All the Green cards were G/B and probably didn't make it far round. The players to our right are not very interested in Green. There are two Red drafters somewhere on the table. There's every reason to suspect we're all set for GbU."
"How do you know all that?"
"Writing is tech!" I hold up the notepad where I scribbled down the contents of Pick 1.
Terraformer? It doesn't matter much - that's the end of the meaningful picks for Pack 1.
R&D's original version of Perplex was even
Explanation time. I certainly confused Pat, but there's madness to my method (or vice versa). Playing Guild colors is a significant advantage. People do it for a reason. But the reason they do it is: gold cards. Now if you actually look at the Dimir gold cards the quality is not that amazing. Particularly at Common there's really not much going on. In our draft we picked up two of the best Dimir uncommons early, but a few cards is fine for a splash and Ravnica makes splashing very easy. With Black being cut off from our right we have no real reason to stay in it.
This brings me to my second point. You may think that bouncelands and Signets push you towards Guild colors too, but in fact this is not the case.
Consider these two manabases:
Example GBu Manabase
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Dimir Aqueduct
Example GbU Manabase
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Dimir Aqueduct
Do you see what's happened there? The GbU manabase is actually better using the very same cards because there are fewer lands supporting only the splash color. Such lands are bad because if we see one in our opening hand we may experience color problems.
The next argument against my strange policies might be that we didn't see much Green pack 1... but this isn't necessarily a fair impression. We know that rares were taken from Picks 2 and 3 before we saw them and in fact a careful inspection of printruns (which I didn't do during the draft I might add) tells me that Disembowel is the other missing card from Pick 3. This is reassuring because it confirms our intuition that we weren't seeing much Black. So in fact the key packs didn't have much Green in them to begin with.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. There's a much more pressing reason I'm looking at Green here. Pat gets a bit lost unless you keep things simple. So I kept things simple.
"Pat, after Pack 1 how many Vedalken Entrancers do you have?"
"How many Snapping Drakes?"
"Then you are not Dimir."
Now that is an oversimplification, but I hope you see the truth of it nonetheless. We have one Moroii, but that doesn't make for a Dimir aggro deck all by itself. We have even less support for Dimir mill. Nor are we likely to see much because... the drafter to our right is very probably drafting Dimir mill. The guy to his right doesn't care about Green, so is very likely one of the table's two Boros drafters. Probably to his right we have a Dimir aggro drafter. This is fairly rough speculation by the time we get to this point, but we need to build up a picture in this way to clarify our intuitions.
Of course in this particular draft Pat went on doing his own thing. He ended up with a mediocre Dimir aggro deck splashing Green for a Shambling Shell and a Golgari Rotwurm.
With the experience of losing to a Boros deck behind him, the Patron of the Nezumi became far more receptive to the ideas I'd been trying to discuss with him.
"A lot has been written about drafting Dimir," I explained, "and rightly so because they support two of the three strongest decks in the format."
"The other is Selesnya?"
"Yup," I nodded and continued, "Now when you talk about these 'decks', what you're really discussing are deck archetypes..."
I first encountered the concept of a deck archetype back in Mirrodin block. Geordie Tait wrote an excellent article at StarCity (this was back before excellent articles were locked there) on the subject of a strategy called "Lashdraft". I say "strategy", but really it was an archetype. The way it worked was simple enough. Mirrodin Black was full of Nims. These creatures, typified by the Nim Lasher, could end up with scary power levels very quickly... but were horribly fragile. With a dangerous number of pingers around, drafters picked them very late. What Lashdraft did was to combine late picks like Slagwurm Armor and Neurok Hoversail with late-pickable Lashers to create real threats. And it worked.
Of course, every drafter understands on some level the concept of a deck that works. There is more to archetypes than that. Three key points to remember are:
1) Archetypes may have preferred early picks, but they are made viable by their mid/late picks.
2) It must be possible to determine when to draft an archetype.
3) The decks which result from drafting the archetype must be greater than the sum of their parts.
Using GbU as an example again, let's look at how it works out:
1) Flight of Fancy and Peel from Reality are the two Common cards which most go up in value. The former sends your fat Green monsters into the air for the win. The latter bounces gang-blocked fatties on the ground or your key threats in response to removal, offering significant tempo advantages.
2) This is easy: you draft it when you're not seeing enough Black for a good Dimir deck. Avoid drafting it if you have no Green fat by the end of pack 2 - switch back to Dimir.
3) Green offers a much better early game than pure Dimir and can also accelerate flyers out sooner. Golgari Brownscale, Centaur Safeguard, Fists of Ironwood and Scatter the Seeds all make things difficult for ground-based attack and Gather Courage wins air wars. This perfectly complements Blue's evasive midgame. Blue card drawing gives you a late game. Flight of Fancy and Tattered Drake both reach full potential in this deck (the latter because it comes out sooner).
But enough about GbU - the current format is vanishing soon, so it won't be relevant for long. Another example will serve us well - this time, where an idea fails to form an archetype. The concept in question is GWr Dogpile. The idea is to splash Red into a Selesnya deck with the intention of firing the late pick Dogpile at the opponent's dome for 8+ damage during an alpha strike. (I had a Sealed Deck which did this once, which inspired me to try it!) So what goes wrong?
1) We pass this test: Dogpile is normally a late pick. Also, Fiery Conclusion will be a little better than usual here.
2) This starts to look worrying. In order to draft this deck we need a Selesnya deck with lots of token generation. And then we need to draft at least a couple of Dogpiles. Since our premise is that they go late, we simply take them when there isn't anything exciting in the pack. In other words, we draft the deck if it lands in our lap. So in fact awareness of this archetype... never helps.
All too often, a Dogpile is telegraphed.
3) Here's where it all goes wrong. A Selesnya deck with lots of token generation is already a good deck. We're hardly going to start passing Conclave Equenauts and Siege Wurms just because we plan on Dogpiling people. As such, we end up with a choice: damage our manabase to include Dogpile? All too often the answer is that we're better off not doing so. Even worse, if we drafted a bit of Black removal we can't splash for it.
Do you see the key distinction there? We've come up with a description of a deck which one could draft, but it doesn't merit classification as an archetype in its own right because it turns out not to be meaningfully distinct from Selesnya.
"Excuse me," Pat peered over my shoulder at the monitor. I have this horrible premonition that he's going to sulk again because my article makes him look bad. But no. "Can I have a shout out?"
"Sorry, you what?"
"Put a thing in the article saying 'Hi' from me to the other Patrons? They're my friends. Did I tell you, Akki even saw some Constructed play?"
I point out that the conversation's being transcribed and Pat grins and wanders off to get a beer.
Before I go and do the same myself, we need to talk about Guildpact. This is the reason why now is the time you must understand archetypes. The fact is that anyone can look at a spoiler and pick out the cards like Last Gasp. Everyone comes up with their own take on things: "This is good", "This is nuts", "Whoa - first pick", "Windmill slam", "Freaky beatz", "WangZ00rZ!". Actually I've never seen anyone type that last one, but usually someone manages a card review so far from my native English that I can only make sense of it by knowing what they were going to say anyway. The truth is: ability to review Last Gasp is not a useful skill.
Everyone is going to pick Last Gasp early. From day one.
What matters and will win you packs and boost your rating and impress the chicks (and the other Patrons) is your ability to spot the archetypes early. Not the obvious stuff, but the under-the-radar options that other drafters will miss for the first month or two. While everyone else is fighting over the Affinity cards, you could be playing Lashdraft. While everyone else was praying for a Selesnya Guildmage you could have been drafting Thundersong.
Hopefully you've been keeping up with the spoiler. (Oh, what's that, you do read MTGSalvation after all?) So now you know what to do: get thinking. Here's hoping it'll be you singing "Ten-nil, ten-nil!" by the time the dust settles.
Edited by: Goblinboy
Co-star: Patron of the Nezumi
By Dom Camus on January 24th, 2006 · Filed in Limited · Comments not available just now
About Dom Camus
Dom Camus is a player of games, a pooter wizard, a graphic artist, a mighty pirate, a moose herder and a liar. When he's not playing other games, he plays Magic the Gathering.