Pro Tour: Baghdad

Or, "Introducing New Players to the Wonderful World of Limited."

Hello again! Today's article will be a little bit different than normal, as this month I introduced my fledgling planeswalkers to the thrill that is Limited. Specifically, to booster drafting. (If you're new, a quick rundown of the format can be found here.) In my previous article, I explained a few things to remember in general when teaching constructed Magic to new players; now we face a format that involves a great many more subtle nuances and key decisions. Those of you who have played any booster drafting know that the real work comes even before you play your first game. A single mispick early on can predispose you towards a crappy deck; and a crappy deck likely won't win a Limited tournament, no matter how well you play. This is not an easy format.

But it's not impregnable! Today we'll look at ways to ease "N00BZ" (no discrimination there, I swear!) into Limited, showcasing some sound ideas, an actual Time Spiral booster draft I ran, and some videos of the event just to make things interesting. So! Let's get started.

Real men teach their friends with Arabian Nights.
A. Introduce the Concept of Limited.

So why even get into Limited? I'm sure your new friends are happy enough spending their hard-earned cash on new cards for their pet, "killer" deck. Limited (sealed/booster draft) is a completely different approach to the game that requires a completely different mode of thinking. Why confuse your friends now?

Here's a few ways Limited play has helped the development of my own playgroup and might do the same for yours:

1. It forces players to take a new look at cards they normally blow off.
Shaper Parasite, for example, is an iffy card with an iffy, expensive ability that'd never see play in Constructed. In Limited, however, the same card becomes a terrific removal option for Blue (one that can even "out-race" split second, since Morph abilities don't use the stack). This is one of the major reasons I personally love the format--every card (well, ALMOST every card) has a purpose.

2. It gives players a new appreciation for those same "crap" cards.
Half of the cards R&D produce for each set are designed specifically for Limited play; most new players who have only seen Constructed won't realize this. (Another example from Blue: Primal Plasma. Although not focused enough to fit well in a Constructed deck, its open-endedness can give you just the answer you need in a Limited match.) Hence, a good booster draft can give your friends a new appreciation for the entire game.

3. It strongly emphasizes many basic elements of Magic theory.
A newer player might never wrestle with tempo or card quality in his preconstructed/netdeck, usually because it was already pre-handled by someone else. Suddenly, in Limited, that same player is faced with a draft choice between a Grizzly Bears and Wind Drake. Either he'll make the proper decision between a cheaper creature and evasion, or he'll be beaten up by people who did. (Incidentally, the Drake's flying ability usually makes it the draft choice, but there are times your deck needs more quick blockers.)

4. It teaches nuances of the Magic rules/tricks that pet decks might never approach.
Think you're going to win with a drafted Barren Glory? Think again! It might work well enough in a pre-made combo deck, but creature fights rule the day in Limited. And while your friend's Dralnu du-Louvre deck may have taught him ALL about the "EOT," it may have left him lacking on tapping creatures during the "Beginning of Combat" step, tapping creatures for abilities once they've blocked, or the differences between boosting before and after combat damage assignments are on the stack. Limited play might give him just the crash course he needs on lessons he's lacking.

Yeah, I'd draft that.
5. It gives extra mileage from the booster packs your friends are probably buying anyway.
A lot of my new player friends are already loading up on booster packs, combining Christmas morning and their rare-hunting tendencies in one $3.99 purchase. Or two or three. Why not teach them to get extra mileage from the same dollars? Instead of thirty seconds of thrill, they can squeeze four or five hours out of the same packs. And actually use the 8-10 commons they'll likely toss under their bed anyway.

Quick Note: Don't force Limited play on a completely-fresh group. Limited is all about understanding the individual value of each card, and players who are still thinking "card value" means "it is a rare?" need more practice with precons and their own pet decks. For me, it was four months before I tried convincing my friends to buy a draft box (twelve packs each of Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, and Future Sight) from my favorite vendor. The extra time was well worth the effort, as my "students" had gained a solid understanding of the game, the rules, and the subtle interactions between cards.

So, you've already talked to your friends, and they've decided to give this weird new format a "try." What do you do now?

B. Buy Some Time Spiral/Planar Chaos/Future Sight Boosters!

Okay, that's really not a hard and fast rule. Just my own personal preference. Here's why:

1. Time Spiral/Planar Chaos/Future Sight ("TPF") offers diversity.
"Core set" editions (Eighth Edition, Ninth Edition, Tenth Edition) contain less than 400 cards, and most Magic blocks boast only around 650. If you include the timeshifted "purple" cards, the entire Time Spiral block has a grand of 767 unique cards that could show up in your boosters. This translates into fewer copies of the same old cards when you're done playing, and consequently, happier friends. New players will appreciate this wise investment of their money.

2. TPF offers an excellent chance for education.
Because of its premise as a block, Time Spiral offers a review of significant cards and themes throughout Magic history. As an entire block, it boasts 121 timeshifted "favorites" and 35 total mechanics--certainly a bit dizzying to a fresh player, as many have noted. However, if your group is small like mine, and if you're constantly on hand to answer questions that arise, TPF is a great way to shove your friends in the proverbial white water of education. And hold their heads under. (Just kidding, of course.)

3. TPF is (at the time of this article's writing) still Standard.
If you're going to teach your friends the ins and outs of every card in a set, why not have it be a set they could use in their local Friday Night Magic? That way, the lessons they learn will be useful even outside your little group.

Dem's my favs!
4. TPF has a great flavor!
Er... as a set, I mean. Although those foils have a slightly tangy aftertaste. Again, maybe this is just a preference of mine. But this block helps you point out key players in Magic tournament's past, explain current color theory with the recognizable "alternate present" cards, and lets players tinker with cool-looking "future" cards. It's certainly better, at least, than saying, "Yeah, and in this set, Glissa walked around and did some more stuff no one cares about." TPF's enough to keep even a jaded player smiling, unless you're really, really jaded. (In which case, TPF doomed Magic to an early grave and Mark Rosewater is its cold-blooded killer.)

So let's say you've convinced your friends to buy three boosters apiece. Perhaps you simply took a trip to the neighborhood game store. Or maybe you've found an online vendor who will sell you "draft boxes" for cheaper than store prices. (This is what I personally do.) In any case, your group is ready to try their hand at their first Limited booster draft. What's next?

C. Give Some Quick Pointers Before You Begin.

Or, tell them nothing and then hand their butts to them. Ha ha ha.

Assuming, however, that you're getting them into Limited because you want to actually teach them something, give them a few heads-up pointers before they open their first pack. Sit them down and explain specifically how drafting requires a completely different way of thinking than Constructed play. It'll help them in the hours to come; and they will thank you, as opposed to cursing the format and never trying again.

Here's what I told my group:

1. "BREAD."

For your very first booster draft ever, introduce only the most basic concepts. (Believe me, not screwing themselves over in the picks is going to take up most of your friends' concentration anyway.) For the first time, just talk about the concept of BREAD.

B - Bombs
R - Removal
E - Efficient Spells
A - Aggro Creatures
D - Dregs

(You will sometimes see different versions of the above acronym, depending on where you go. This is my preferred interpretation. For an excellent article that explains the "BREAD" concept more in-depth than I'm about to, check out Evan Erwin's "Learning How to Draft" article.)

a. Bombs.
For friends who've never tried booster drafting before, just emphasize the first two points: Bombs and Removal. "Bombs" are cards that make a distinct difference. If they make your opponents go "Oh crap!" when they hit, or if they force your opponents to play around them, draft them above anything else in the pack. Even if it doesn't eventually make your deck, it'll at least prevent the person sitting next to you from using it against you.

Make sure you note that bombs aren't always easy to recognize. A Stuffy Doll or a Lightning Angel is a definite draft pick; but what about a Spiketail Drakeling? It may seem like "only" a common creature at first, a so-so 2/2 flier for 1UU with some sort of activated ability. Yet it's easily better than half the rares you'll open. Tell your friends that "Bombs" are cards that have an impact on play, not just cards that sport a little gold-colored ink!

Akroma joins a convent.
b. Removal.
As for removal, I've heard it said that in Limited, the threat that lasts the longest wins. Again, sometimes removal is subtle. It could be as obvious as a Conflagrate, or as subtle as a Utopia Vow. Removal is what lets threats (however small they may be) swing through for those final points of damage. Make sure they pick some up, or they'll be bleeding life points from the Infiltrator il-Kol they can't stop.

Efficient spells, cheap Aggro creatures, and Dregs are ideas you can mention, but concentrate first on the initial two. Admittedly, these are very simplified, dumbed-down versions of the BREAD rule of thumb. But everyone needs a simplified rule of thumb for their initial go. If your group has already had some experience with booster drafting, or if you've already had a go at the format, try introducing them to the next major perspective on drafting.

2. Archetypes.

Once your group has cut its teeth on an initial draft or two, introduce the concept of drafting archetypes. This idea will make sense only to people who have been playing Magic for a few months and can recognize a few of the major deck themes: fast, aggressive creatures with cheap burn; counter-control with a few giant threats; block/removal with evasive creatures; etc. The concept is to not lock yourself into a particular color combination too early (which is easy to do), but instead keep your options open and guide your cardpool once it begins to take shape. Instead of just drafting individual cards, which is where everyone starts, you're now drafting a deck. Each card choice is made in light of what cards you have already, and what archetype you're pushing towards.

That's all the summary I'll give for now. Nick Eisel uses this draft strategy in his column on (For a more detailed examination of this philosophy, read his "Dynamics of a Draft Pick" article.)

3. Deck Ratios.

Make sure to touch briefly on creature/non-creature spell ratios before you begin. Remember, Limited decks need only 40 cards to be legal, and the closer they are to that number, the better. The ratio the "pros" use is 23 spells to 17 lands. (In our own draft experiences, we've found 24/16 or even 25/15 will work, if the deck uses two colors or less. But it's better to be mana-flooded than screwed.) Incidentally, this leaves players with a little bit of room for hate-drafting, as they will be maindecking only 23-25 cards out of 45 drafted. Enough room to make sure the person drafting Black next to you doesn't get that Mirri, the Cursed you just opened.

All right! We're ready. Bring on the draft!

D. Pro Tour: Baghdad. (Er, I Mean, "Our Own Little Booster Draft.")

See what I put up with?

For those of you just joining my articles, I'm currently deployed with an infantry unit in Baghdad, Iraq. Here in our barracks, I've met perhaps eight people total who've played Magic, and I've never seen them together in one place. Consequently, only about four or five people at a time are willing to sit down for an entire night. There are both pros and cons to drafting with a smaller pool of players:

Advantages of a 4-Person Draft:
1. It's a lot easier to set up. Getting four or five fanatical friends together is a lot easier than finding eight or more.
2. It's a lot cheaper, which makes a difference if you're footing the initial bill for materials. (Like I do.)
3. It's an excellent teaching environment. Maintaining the attentions of a few friends is more likely than trying to address a crowd at once.
4. It doesn't take as long. DCI booster drafts I've attended usually requires an hour for drafting, five rounds of an hour each, and then an eight-man final showdown. That's easily an entire afternoon and part of your evening. Four-person drafting takes my group five hours start-to-finish. (Usually because we never enforce time limits.)
5. It's very easy to read the other players at the table, what they're drafting, and what colors are open for you. This lets you find open colors much more easily. That being said...

1. It's very easy to read the other players at the table, what they're drafting, and what colors are open for you. This won't happen at a regular DCI draft, so any lessons you learn here aren't externally valid.
2. Normal Swiss-round-style pairings won't work (or, at least, are a bad idea) as it will just translate to single-elimination. For the money your friends are putting into this, I usually have everyone play everyone else, then go off final standings for an overall "winner."

The booster draft I'll be presently was technically our second and took place on the night of August 4th. (That would have been something like the 1st for you guys back in the States.) If you'll spend a moment to look at our cardpool (rares and non-rares alike), you might be surprised with just how solid the twelve booster packs were. Even the ones with the crap rares (e.g. Moonlace and Steamflogger Boss) still had playable commons and uncommons we had to fight over.

The Cast:

Yours Truly.

Kyle Knapp.

Nicholas Sutherland.

Tom Zena.
Fealko's U/B Evasion/Removal Deck:
I was really happy with the way my draft picks went. I kept my options open between Blue, Black, and Red through my first pack (which explains much of the sideboard), and decided to go into the U/B Evasion/Removal archetype when we started passing the Planar Chaos boosters. No one else drafted Black, and little Blue, and it shows in the quality cards I managed to pick up.

Playing with only three other people definitely changes the dynamics of a booster event. For example, I remember passing up on the Prismatic Lens and the Urza's Factory for colored creatures, confident my friends wouldn't realize their hidden potential. It was a gamble based on what I knew of my friends, and it paid off.

Kyle's W/R Slivers/Aggro Deck:
Kyle took a chance and went off a lesson learned from our practice booster draft only three days prior: no one drafted Slivers. Resisting the urge to draft Slivers in every color, he limited himself to the White and Red versions. Efficient weenies and removal rounded out his aggro plan.

Nicholas' "Patriotic" R/W/U Deck:
I think Nicholas let his draft of Numot, the Devastator influence his color choices too strongly, as he found little else to justify his three-color mana base. Even within the colors it sports, his deck shows no strong archetype and little removal.

Tom's "Temporary Lapse of Judgment" W/U/G Beats:
The Future Sight booster I opened had a Tarmogyf AND a Nacatl War-Pride. I immediately hate-drafted the War-Pride; I shudder to think what might have happened if Tom had laid hands on even more bombs for his impressive decklist. He'd already grabbed a Calciderm, Body Double, Kavu Primarch, Thornweald Archer, and an Ovimancer that he could have used to take his deck in any number of directions.

That being said, it's almost like Tom didn't know what to do with what he had. Had he refined his deck to just two colors (White and Green, for example) and brought in some more dependable cards from his sideboard (Whitemane Lion, Sprout Swarm, the Thallids), he probably could have faired much better in his matchups.

Quick Match Results!

Round 1.

Fealko vs. Nicholas:
With no mana fixing, Sutherland struggled for the right colored mana to support his three-colored deck. I patiently removed what threats he actually got down (Strangling Soot taking out a hasted Tarox Bladewing, for example) and evaded through with shadow and fliers.
Results: Fealko 1-0 (2-0), Nicholas 0-1 (0-2).

The hastier they are, the
faster they eat my removal.

Kyle vs. Tom:
From what I gathered, Kyle beat Tom down with Slivers that Tom couldn't remove. Tom said it "hurt a lot."
Results: Kyle 1-0 (2-0), Tom 0-1 (0-2).

Round 2.

Kyle vs. Fealko:
This was a very close match, and could have gone any number of ways. Ultimately (here as in the Pro Tour environment), it came down to mistakes. On our third game, just before I was about to swing for lethal, Kyle was holding a Conflagrate that could have taken out my last 4 life points...if his Fungal Reaches had had only one more counter on it. Kyle swears there was a missed opportunity to add a counter somewhere along the way, costing him the match.

To be fair, I also made blatant errors. In our second game, one of the deciding factors was an end-of-turn Strangling Soot on a Cautery Sliver. I didn't notice the Watcher Sliver on the board until after it was cast, and Kyle obviously didn't remember it, since he sacked the Cautery Sliver in response. Technically, I unwittingly cheated, since his sliver wasn't even a legal target for my spell. If you haven't seen it already, read Caveat Ch34tzor by Tom Fowler. It'll prevent you from sacking a Sliver that wouldn't have died anyway, but more importantly, it'll prevent you from playing sloppily and possibly being disqualified for trying to target it with illegal removal. Like I did. *slaps self*
Results: Kyle 1-1 (3-2), Fealko 2-0 (4-1).

(To be fair, later I'll also show the standings if Kyle had won the controversial game.)

Don't laugh at it. I swear.
You'll just jinx yourself.

Nicholas vs. Tom:
First game: Tom mana-screwed.
Second game: Tom held out with large, green, tramply creatures.
Third game: Nicholas won with a creature enchanted with Flowstone Embrace and Daybreak Coronet. (Don't try this at home!) As pointed out, Tom drafted almost no removal.
Results: Nicholas 1-1 (2-3), Tom 0-2 (1-4).

Round 3.

Fealko vs. Tom:
The first game was close--Zena got me down to 2 life with solid cards like Stonewood Invocation until his hand emptied and I could get out flying blockers. I reversed the game from there. The second game he got mana-screwed yet again. (And it's not for lack of lands in his deck; we all suspect he just doesn't shuffle very well.)
Results: Fealko 3-0 (6-1), Tom 0-3 (1-6).

Kyle vs. Nicholas:
By this time it was almost 2 in the morning and five hours into our booster draft mini-tourny. Though not much to a player accustomed to this rigmarole, Kyle was beginning to flag mentally. In the third game, he passed his turn, completely forgetting to swing for the 5 damage that would have decided the game and the match. (Afterwards, he played another two games against Nicholas just to prove he could have won that particular matchup, and did. But in so far as the tournament went, it still counted as a loss.)
Results: Kyle 1-2 (4-4), Nicholas 1-2 (4-4).

Kyle and Tom face off in... MORTAL KOMBAT!
Final Standings!
1. Fealko 3-0 (6-1)
2. Kyle 1-2 (4-4) tied with Nicholas 1-2 (4-4)
3. Tom 0-3 (1-6)

(Standings if Kyle had won either of his close games with the author: Fealko 2-1 (5-2), Kyle 2-1 (5-3), Nicholas 1-2 (4-4), Tom 0-3 (1-6). Which only goes to show what our group knew already: Kyle and I are pretty evenly matched.)

And there you have it. It's even possible to get more than one booster draft out of the same packs; read Abe Sargent's article here to get some ideas. Our group plans to do that with the 16,000+ commons we have sitting in our trunk!


Before I go, I'll leave you with some videos of the event that might or might not be able to compete with Evan Erwin's Magic Show. Probably not.

DISCLAIMER: These are documentaries of infantrymen in their natural environment. If you're offended by a swear word every now and then, you'd best avert thine eyes!

1. The players are introduced. (0:31, 5 MB)
2. We offer a glimpse into our drafting process. I prefer drafting to Lenny Kravitz. (0:29, 5 MB)
3. Here are some comments on our individual drafting strategies and how they panned out. (0:37, 5 MB)

4. We build our decks. (1:18, 13 MB)
5. The first matchups begin! Here I explain to Kyle that a storage land (i.e. a Fungal Reaches) can tap itself to use its own counters. (0:16, 3 MB)
6. A post-matchup 1 analysis is presented. Some people won, some people...didn't. (0:38, 7 MB)

7. Here we are after the second matchups. Tom is embarrassed. (1:33, 15 MB)
8. Kyle and Nicholas go head-to-head in round 3. Tom adds his own personal comments on the value of the Ovimancer card. (0:58, 10 MB)
9. The post-tournament bum-around begins. Players talk about drafting cards they wouldn't normally pay any mind to in Constructed. (1:18, 13 MB)

10. A real-world example of "junk cards" that won some matchups. (0:57, 10 MB)
11. Kyle notes how playing for a few months beforehand helped him understand individual card value and impact better. (1:04, 11 MB)
12. Tom explains how booster drafting gave him the opportunity to break away from his pet Constructed deck. (0:46, 8 MB)


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