Baghdad Bazaar: The Lorwyn FFA Draft
By Nathan Fealko on November 21st, 2007 · Filed in Multiplayer, Limited, Baghdad Bazaar · Comments not available just now
Well, it's a free for all, and I've heard it said
You can bet your life...
Stakes are high and so am I,
It's in the air tonight.
It's a Free-for-All!
All right, enough with the obscure musical references. Today I'm talking about a format that has been rarely tried and (to my knowledge) never written about. Specifically, I'm talking about the Free-For-All Draft.
The FFA Draft: A format in which drafting three boosters of Magic cards happens as normal, but all participants play a single Free-for-All game, with no sideboards and no holds barred.
I made it up myself! (Does it show?) Although I sincerely doubt it's the first time it's been tried. Anyway, since I am a big fan of both Free-for-All multiplayer and drafting, it seemed like an interesting enough way to combine my two interests. And since it was a format I had never played before this month, I would have little to no advantage over the other, newer players that join me each night. (That, and my editor has been begging for an article on the topic for a few months now. But don't tell him I told you.)
The next planeswalker,1. I CAN HAS QUICK RECAP??? (Or, A Quick Review of Drafting Strategy.)
Before sitting your own group down to draft a completely new format (as I did with mine), it might be an excellent idea to review standard drafting strategy. First, make sure they understand the rules of the format and the 23/17 ratio rule of thumb, then bring up BREAD. For those of you who don't remember, BREAD usually stands for "Bombs," "Removal," "Evasive creatures," "Aggro Creatures," and "Dregs." Without retreading paths blazed by better players in other articles, I do want to illustrate an interesting point. Namely, that the "Bomb" you grab for a one-on-one duel might not be the "Bomb" you grab for a multiplayer game.
Here are some examples of cards to watch for in a multiplayer game:
a. Mainboarded answers. (Oblivion Ring, Ingot Chewer.) Artifact or enchantment removal needs to be in the mainboard if you're ever planning to see it, and it would help if it had a body to it.
b. Cheap blockers. (Wren's Run Packmaster, Fire-Belly Changeling.) Because you have to survive to the mid-game vs. three players somehow.
c. Effects that get more powerful with more players. (Faerie Tauntings, Liliana Vess.) Some mediocre cards get better with more players.
d. Diplomacy cards (effects that can make friends/useful slaves) (Arbiter of Knollridge, Nettlevine Blight.) Others just get more interesting.
e. Long-term resource advantage. (Seedguide Ash, Fallowsage.) Multiplayer games don't end quickly. You might as well use those turns building up to something good.
f. Life gain. (Ajani Goldmane, Heal the Scars.) If you can stay ahead of everyone else in life, you have a solid shot at the end-game. Don't underestimate this strategy in this format.
You could also talk to your group about advanced topics like drafting archetypes, but drafting FFA is still a virgin territory. The strategies that have been oh-so-honed-and-refined for duels could be a miss in this setting. Even accepted theory for drafting Lorwyn might be entirely incorrect. For this reason, I left advanced topics alone when preparing my group.
Oh, and don't forget to talk a little about the block all of you will be drafting. The Lorwyn universe is a completely different animal than the Mirrodin version, for example. Make sure your players understand the basic premise ("tribal matters") and any new mechanics they might see (clash, changeling, champion, planeswalkers).
The draft in question took place on the night of November 14, 2007. I managed to threaten, intimidate, or beg three other players to join me in this event. (I've talked briefly about the unique mechanics of a four-person draft here.) Joining me were Leander (a long-time participant), Brian (my long-suffering roommate), and Ben (a newcomer who's picked up the game quickly). We cracked our boosters and began.
2. TEH DRAFTING. (Or, What We Picked.)
My roommate Brian, who has picked up Magic by proxy.
Brian received a pretty-decent cardpool to choose from, thankfully (no doubt) because no one else was drafting Black! And for a first-time drafter with little training, he didn't do too badly. His quick picks of Deathrender, Cairn Wanderer, and Heat Shimmer were well-justified, he has enough reliable removal and graveyard recursion to last through the mid-game, and the Moonglove Winnowers are just wicked in this format.
Sadly, though, Brian's deck is still somewhat underpowered for the format. The deck might be able to win an attrition war with careful removal and graveyard recursion, but all his 1/1 creatures are woefully unmatched against the massive armies he's likely to face. Additionally, his land/non-land ratio is a little off (46% for an average converted mana cost of 2.65). He could have dropped five or six Swamps with no ill effect.
But does this mean his deck faired badly? Not necessarily; remember, this is multiplayer, where no one is required to attack you first. We'll find out how he did soon enough...
Leander, who has been with us since the beginning.
This deck would be pretty decent one-on-one, so I don't think Leander's drafting efforts were wasted. This deck can lock down an opponent's creatures by either "Dehydrating" them or straight out "Canceling" them, then swing in with large bodies once the way is clear. And Sower of Temptation has that many more potential targets in multiplayer. The problem, however, with a control-ish archetype is that it's better controlling one opponent across the table from you, not three.
How well did Leander's counter/beef deck fair in a format that hates control? Stay tuned.
Ben wants to keep his MTG-involvment on the down-low.
As far as draft strategies went, Ben's easily surpassed the others at the table, succeeding in both adapting to the format and choosing a respectable decklist. Ben went for a fast Red/White creature-based deck that could get out early threats and sustain them. There's also a lot of hidden synergy in the card pool--whether it's a Judge of Currents with a Springleaf Drum, or just a Wellgabber Apothecary combining with any of the Shapeshifters. And since no one else drafted strong White or Red (I only splashed for them myself), Ben was free to choose each card he needed for a winning decklist.
You should all know who I am by now.
(As you can see, I count cheap land-find or mana-fixing in my total land count.)
All right, I must admit, I probably have the crappiest deck of the four. I entered our draft with the strategy of OMG TREEFOLK ROK IN MLTPLYR, yet perhaps only three Treefolk passed my way. And a lack of a backup strategy didn't exactly help.
I settled into a color scheme later in the draft than everyone else, drafting five colors until my second booster. Blue was an initial splash that I later discarded, and the Black removal I hate-drafted simply so I wouldn't see it across the table. (Shriekmaw was around pick #12 for me...I can only guess Brian didn't read the entire text, or he'd have picked it much sooner.) I eventually found myself scraping together a W/R/G deck to support the Vanquishers, Oblivion Ring, Gaddock Teeg, and Axegrinder Giants. Not exactly a winning strategy.
Studious readers may point out that in my Lorwyn multiplayer article, I warned against using Gaddock Teeg. Still, I couldn't help grabbing him as soon as he was passed. For one, I was not as likely to face opponents with Consume Spirit-style decks. Plus, I had already drafted several Axegrinder Giants and Treefolk, and I saw a lovely synergy there. And, if nothing else, he's a nice 2/2 for .
...too bad Gaddock is a pansy little dork who hides at the bottom of the deck...
Finding myself failing as far as a solid draft strategies, I turned instead to drafting every piece of deterrence I could. As long as my opponents didn't attack me and were fighting each other, I could build my forces unhindered. In theory, the game would eventually devolve to me versus one other, weaker player, and I could then win. Or so the theory went.
But, as Homer Simpson put it so eloquently, "In theory, [even] Communism works!"
3. IM IN UR GAME, PWNING UR DEX. (Or, How the Game Went.)
Outlaw won the dice roll with a 20 (how does he always do that??) and decided to go first. After him came Ben, me, and finally Brian. I drew my seven cards:
1 Springleaf Drum
2 Wren's Run Vanquisher
1 Oblivion Ring
Well, this was a pretty obvious "KEEP!" for me. Not only do I start out with exactly the right mana to cast Gaddock Teeg (had he ever actually showed up), but I could also cast a Wren's Run Vanquisher on turn 2. Plus, I had two of my most powerful spot-removal cards from the get-go, one of which factored directly in the game's finish. But more on this later! (DUN DUN DUN!)
Things got interesting as early as turn two. Ben played a Fire-Belly Changeling, a deceptively-benign blocker, and passed to me. I laid my turn two Wren's Run Vanquisher like a ton of bricks, now certain that the bulb of attention would swing towards me. But when Brian played a Faerie Tauntings and foolishly admitted he had drafted THREE of the multiplayer-worthy cards, I saw my chance. I harped on how a deck full of instants could quickly make life difficult for the rest of us, and Brian weathered a fair amount of damage over the next few turns.
Fortunately for him, Leander (to his left) drew most of the hate with several blatant errors on the very next turn. First, he attempted to "Cancel" my single Wren's Run Vanquisher. He was promptly informed that card only worked when the spell was on the stack. Then he attempted to Glimmerdust Nap it. Again, my untapped creature was an illegal target, and Leander had to put his card back in his hand. Consequently, Leander was forced to pass his turn, having done nothing more productive than spook the crap out of the rest of us. He soon took much combat damage straight to the face for his trouble.
The rest of the game was more straight-forward. Leander cast no spells until an Epically-Proportioned Aethersnipe showed up. He took massive counter-attacks every time he swung with it and quickly dropped to 3 life.
Brian's double Skeletal Changelings were excellent on defense, but he didn't use them for defense. Instead, he kept attacking with them. This did the double duty of both making himself a nuisance and opening himself up for retaliation. Furthermore, Brian's Faerie Taunting only triggered once off a single Peppersmoke before he mana-flooded, drawing into none of the creatures he needed to protect himself. Still, he was only seen as a nuisance and not the threat Leander had become, and we dropped him only to 12.
Ben, on the other hand, was making out like a bandit. Though he had only three lands for the first six turns or so (a Mountain, a Plains, and a Vivid Crag), he still powered out five creatures in that time. The next most populated-board was mine, with only three (two Vanquishers and a Axegrinder Giant). And even though my creatures were technically larger than his Fire-Belly Changeling or Kinsbaile Skirmisher, I needed what few I had on defense.
So how did the game end? Here were the life totals during the last turn:
Ben sizes up the situation.Leander: 3 ('Cause a 9/9 trampler makes people edgy.)
Ben: 9 (A couple of jabs from my Vanquishers and a swing from the giant Aethersnipe had him smarting.)
Nathan (me): 17 (Other than that single Faerie's Taunting's ability and a hit from the two Skeletal Changelings, I was doing pretty well.)
Brian: 12 (Not bad for a mana-flooding player with two 1/1's.)
At this point, all our creatures were tapped, thanks to some interesting combat phases the turn before. Having just lost his Goldmeadow Harrier to a timely Oblivion Ring of mine, Ben suggested a one-turn all-out attack by everyone to take me down to 2 life (or 0, if he won the clash off a Springjack Knight). Instead of following his sage advice, however, Leander succumbed to what is now known as the "Leander Syndrome."
The Leander Syndrome: "I know I'm going to die anyway. I might as well take someone out before I go!"
I have personally been on the receiving end of Leander's unique mentality when going toe-to-toe with the major threat on the board. It's funny when it happens, just not to you.
Anyway, knowing that this was likely his last turn in the game, Leander instead readied his 9/9 trampler and attacked Ben, who was completely tapped out on defenders. With Ben suddenly out of the game, the turn passed directly to me. I untapped my creatures, swung past Brian's tapped Changelings for exactly his life total, and then threw a Giant's Ire at Leander's face for the win.
The real catch of the situation? Had Leander attacked me as suggested, Ben would indeed have won the clash off the Knight (his Lairwatch Giant vs. my Plover Knights) to finish me off. From there, even Leander could have had a solid shot at victory.
Ah well. The things that happen only in multiplayer.
4. TINGS I LURNDED. (Or, What I Would Have Done Differently.)
Actually, my deck turned out not quite as badly as I'd originally feared. The four of us spent the next few days swapping cards in and out of our sideboards and generally having a good time beating each other down. A few things I've learned in that time:
-Don't discount a color you may have only hate-drafted. To the right, you'll see a revised version of my draft deck, honed after several days of experimentation. It works a lot more smoothly than my first version, mostly because I realized the Black removal I'd grabbed works better than the Red I'd maindecked. Believe me, the extra removal has helped in the more recent games I've played, and I see now that I drafted far too little of it in my initial colors. (A side note: Springleaf Drum sucks in multiplayer. It forces you to tap a creature you should be using on defense for a type of mana you should be sporting enough of anyway.)
-My deck works better with a lower mana curve. As it first stood, it could be "swingy," since sometimes I drew only the Giants and 1 land. Adding another land and substituting smaller creatures for the Giants meant I could have something out before turn five.
-Just as a good deck can lose if piloted by a poor player, a good deck can lose if everyone else gangs up on it. And the poor deck in the corner might win simply because no one bothered to kill it.
-Everyone gangs up on me first, even if I am mana-screwed from the start. (Alas, such are the slings and arrows of a reputation.) And then Ben wins. Every. Freaking. Time.
-Brian's deck is indeed underpowered. You'd think a Goblin/Deathrender deck would be pretty powerful, yet even a Deathrender isn't very scary if one's hand is full of 1/1's.
-Leander's deck is actually a lot better it presented itself that night. Even when it's not casting tricky instants, it has enough straight beef and combat tricks to make life very painful.
-Kill every Changeling Hero you see. ASAP.
In retrospect, I was surprised with how well the BREAD acronym still held up, even in multiplayer play. If I had to adjust it specifically for Lorwyn FFA, however, I would change it to "BRCAED." And yes, I realize this doesn't really spell anything cool (unless maybe you could make an acronym out of it, like "Brian Ruthlessly Casts Another Evil Deathrender"). But here's the logic:
Wow, but these are good.1. Bombs.
Earlier, I gave a sizeable list of what might denote a "bomb" in multiplayer. After some thought, I think I can sort them by two defining attributes:
More players equals more creatures/spells/combat phases/etc. As such, you have to be able to survive more threats slung your way. (And I know this from personal experience, alas.) Although a Eyeblight's Ending can be the answer against a single attacker, a creature on your side might keep that creature from attacking you in the first place. Especially if there's a softer target nearby. We already know how powerful a simple creature can be with an simple activated ability (Wellgabber Apothecary, Kithkin Healer); now imagine how useful those creatures become when they can threaten gang-blocks.
I suppose the way to sum this point up is: draft critters. Draft a lot of critters. Shields of Velis Vel is nice enough for a one-time combat trick that might or might not work, but even a lowly Kithkin Greatheart sticks around from turn to turn. (And is a perfectly-fine topdeck on an empty board.) Plus, the wonderful evoke creatures only help this strategy.
That being said, it would certainly help if you had more than just a warm body to throw in the way.
Winning in multiplayer pretty much boils down to being the last player standing. To do that, you either have to weather attack after attack, or make your friends look elsewhere in the first place. A quick Moonglove Winnower will make even a Gnarloak Warrior think twice. Even careful conversation can be a deterrent, if you successfully make your friend's Faerie Taunting out to be the worse thing since Akroma.
Yet another solid reason to2. Removal.
Thankfully, there are only a few examples of global reset to worry about in Lorwyn so far, and they're not always that reliable. I'd personally stay away from drafting them for FFA. Nothing makes enemies quite like destroying (or trying to destroy) everyone's creatures. Pinpoint removal, on the other hand, might just stop an attacking Gnarloak Warrior or take care of that Lairwatch Giant always getting in the way. I personally have been thankful for every Oblivion Ring or Rootgrapple I've ever drawn.
And if you have to, flash that Oblivion Ring in your hand; doing that alone might mean you never have to use it.
As far as the Lorwyn draft goes, Changelings simply rock. I had heard this spouted before on drafting articles, yet this draft brought the truth into sharp relief. Changelings can be just the thing to turn your Peppersmoke into more than just a Darkblast, or to keep that Eyeblight's Ending looking elsewhere. I would go as far as to say if you're not pulling a bomb like Wren's Run Vanquisher, pick up yourself some cheap Shapeshifters. You'll get an extra boost out of those Lorwyn cards that say, "If you control a Changeling, you rock!" (And they'll help you power out those wonderful Vanquishers, too.)
4. Aggro Creatures.
If creatures are good in multiplayer, then more creatures must be better! Axegrinder Giants are certainly nice one-on-one, but they do far less in multiplayer. Assuming you survive the 1/1 and 2/2 creatures long enough to get the to cast one, they can still only block one creature apiece. And fall to a single Eyeblight's Ending. Plus, you can never attack with your lone Giant, as that would leave you wide open. Instead of one Axegrinder Giant, however, can we interest you in two Mudbutton Torchrunners instead? They can block twice the number of attackers, and their triggered ability is enough of a deterrent to keep most opponents at bay.
WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!"But what about board-sweeping cards like Hurly-Burly," you may ask? "Wouldn't I be over-extending into one of those? Aren't those spells exactly how control decks keep their advantage?" In one-on-one duels, the answer is yes. In multiplayer FFA, on the other hand, Hurly-Burly should instead read: "Make an enemy out of everyone else at the table. Lose in the next three turns." Not to say that you should draft an army of 1/1 creatures (as was a problem with Brian's decklist), but don't be so afraid of playing significant X/1 and X/2 creatures.
Summed up, even vanilla creatures can threaten a gang-block on larger creatures, and it's easier to attack and still leave something back on defense. I'd personally look at building a horde of small, synergistic creatures before looking at anything larger.
Hmm. And Lorwyn doesn't have any of those. [/sarcasm]
5. Evasive Creatures.
Evasive creatures (Avian Changeling, etc) might not be quite the win-or-lose they are in duels, but they definitely make a difference in the clogged battlefields of multiplayer. That being said, they're usually noticeably more expensive to play than their non-flying, blockable counterparts. And as important as a quick defense is in FFA, evasive creatures find themselves much lower in the draft priorities than normal.
6. A Drafting Backup Plan!
This whoops more than aInstead of the usual "Dregs" for this part, I'll emphasize the importance of a backup plan. For me, my major draft strategy was "Treefolk!" When that didn't pan out, it switched to "Don't Suck!" The three Wren's Run Vanquishers were a lucky pull on my part, but my deck sported more of a defensive strategy than a win condition. I should have thought through my options more thoroughly, like what colors or tribes to pick up if my first strategy fell through.
The New, Improved Lorwyn FFA Draft Plan!!!
So, if I had it all over to do again, what would my draft strategy be? Well, for one, forget the Treefolk! I have no doubt they'd be very strong in a block-constructed deck, where you can hone your mana curve till it's a purring Ferrari engine. In draft, however, one doesn't have that luxury. Instead, I'd first be watching for obvious bombs like the Vanquisher and Changeling Hero we saw in this draft's pool. I'd pick up very few non-creature spells other than solid removal and mana fixing. (Obviously, the specific examples I give are biased towards the cards from this particular draft.) After that, as far as creatures went, I'd be heavily focusing on those awesome little Changelings and the synergies they have with cards like Judge of Currents and Giant's Ire.
But what do you think? What are your ideas on this new, unusual format? Have you ever tried FFA drafting yourself? Are my observations a hit or miss? What would work better for my next draft?
And why do I have 12 more unopened Lorwyn boosters hiding under my bed? Hmm...
Stay tuned next month! There may yet be a PART TWO.
Mild-Mannered "Nathan's Mom" (seen with Unwitting Husband)
Dark Necromantic Sorceress of Much Kick-Buttitude:
By Nathan Fealko on November 21st, 2007 · Filed in Multiplayer, Limited, Baghdad Bazaar · Comments not available just now
About Nathan Fealko
Nathan Fealko graduated from a tiny, sequestered college in NY with degrees in Creative Writing, Communications, and Psychology that he still hasn't used. Taking a break after college, he spent time travelling the world and relaxing in exotic locations like the Korean DMZ and Baghdad. He also learned how to run really fast in ballistic armor. Recently out of the Army, he teaches English to small tots in Taiwan.