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Salvaging a Wrecked Draft

I’m going to miss Hour of Devastation Limited. Grand Prix Indianapolis was an absolute blast and, the perfect ending to a Limited format I’ve greatly enjoyed over the past few months.

I put up another solid 11-4 finish on Amonkhet (7-2 Sealed, 4-2 Draft) and one of my teammates, Kyle Boggemes, braved the “Murderer’s Row” Draft pod to make a Top 8. It’s always awesome to see hard work pay off and a teammate crush it.

I felt like I underperformed with a great Sealed deck by losing a couple of matches. To be fair, a big part of that was due to mulligans into non-functioning hands in two rounds, but I was happy with my build and play overall.

Since Hour of Devastation Limited is pretty much over, I’d like to focus instead on the abstract art form that is drafting.

When the Ship Wrecks

I watch more Limited than Constructed videos. I gain a lot from watching how other players I respect value cards and build their decks. In particular, I find Drafts that get complicated to be of particular use.

I don’t learn much from watching a Draft where the player picks an aggressive red or white card and then gets handed the moon on a silver platter. Obviously, it helps to know what the archetypes are and whatnot, but I know that things are not always just going to come up Milhouse every time.

It doesn’t require a player to have drafted very many times to learn that sometimes things just don’t come together. Maybe you’re not in the right colors, maybe the cards you were counting on are not coming, maybe the packs are just kind of soft.

I had exactly that situation occur at Grand Prix Indianapolis last weekend. My first Draft went off without a hitch. I drafted an aggressive B/G deck with great creatures and a -1/-1 subtheme. My deck was highlighted by 2 copies of Torment of Scarabs that I picked up as late picks in both packs 1 and 3.

I just want to play my aggro prison deck in Draft, okay?

I was a little bit drained after the first Draft because I lost a tough finals match where I kind of bricked off and my opponent drew perfect in the first game. Then I mulliganed into a non-functional hand and got steamrolled.

It was just one of those matches where I thought my deck was much better than my opponents, my play was A+ positive, and my draw steps really let me down at critical points in the match. It happens—life goes on.

A Draft Derailed

Going into the second Draft, I was technically eliminated for Top 8 contention. My mindset was more focused on enjoying the Draft and just doing my own thing. I had some cool players in my pod—Brandon Ayers and Frank Skarren—and I was more looking forward to having some fun with the pressure off than anything else.

When I cracked my first pack the decision was between two cards. Here’s the problem: I’ve never played with or against Driven // Despair before. I can tell it is a powerful card and I like B/G a lot, and this spell felt like it would be a straight-up bomb in that archetype. It’s also an archetype that I’ve had a good deal of success forcing.

In hindsight, I felt that Oketra’s Avenger was the much safer pick and likely the better pick. I should have just picked the Avenger and moved on with my life. The issue is that I’m a risk taker and I love to be creative when drafting and trying new things. All of these factors, combined with the fact that I had just had an awesome black deck and was eliminated from Top 8, led me to roll the dice with Driven.

As it turns out, the Avenger is not only the better card in a general sense, but my Draft would have been better if I had just jumped ship on my first pick sooner.

I basically committed the cardinal sin of drafting, which was that I didn’t stay flexible and I was stubborn in trying to force something that wasn’t coming.

In pack 2, I had to think hard about whether or not the EV of rare drafting a foil Locust God was higher than taking a card for my deck and actually trying to win because I was so far behind.

After 3 packs, this is what I played to a 2-1 record. I’m particularly proud of this deck because it did the most possible with the least resources.

You are probably wondering how this deck wins. Well, the answer is that it grinds the opponent out of resources over the course of a long game and then sets up a gigantic Dawn to regrow all of the creatures. Hopefully that is enough!

Since my deck was so lacking on actual “good” cards, I started focusing on trying to build synergies. It was pretty obvious after 20 picks that I was severely lacking on quality cards. I wasn’t going to run anybody over.

In the second pack I focused on picking up some Feral Prowlers, Grisly Survivors, and Lurching Rotbeasts with my later picks out of weak packs. None of these cards are particularly good, but the Prowlers had a lot of synergy with my Lethal Stings and the cycling synergies at least did something.

I was passed an early Dusk // Dawn in pack 2, and I decided to roll the dice again by splashing a WW card that had a lot of synergy with the rest of my cards.

I also invested a relatively high pick into this strange land as a way of casting Dusk // Dawn. I was aware that Razaketh’s Rite could tutor for either half of my “combo.”

As I rounded out my Draft I was thinking that my deck would be sort of a “grind you out” control deck that went long and won with Dusk // Dawn recurring everything and Oracle’s Vault as a source of card advantage.

One card that really impressed me was the Razaketh’s Rite.

The rite time for the rite card.

The investment cost was very low since it cycled for a single mana, but the opportunity cost was very high since the “best” cards in my deck were so important.

It turns out that my deck actually had two combos.

I used my tutor to set up both of these combos over the course of the tournament and the endgame of both was basically eradicating my opponent’s forces.

Another thing worth noting was that I had legitimately good cards in my sideboard:

Too good to make the cut in this bad deck.

“That cannot be correct!” was the snap response from basically everybody I showed my build. But I had good reasons why each of these cards didn’t make the cut.

Destined // Lead doesn’t do anything in my deck! It’s a great card but I don’t have deathtouch creatures or big attackers. Also, my opponent is always going to be attacking me at every point of the game that matters, and so it will be hard to line up Lead with whatever I need to kill.

Creatures having power 2+ and being vulnerable to my own Dusk was also a concern. My deck is really built around finding and abusing the powerful aftermath spell and I wanted to maximize the synergy there.

When Your Cards Are Bad, Focus on Synergy

There is clearly a disparity between the power level of cards in Limited. In the perfect world your deck will have a bunch of efficient threats and removal, and be better pound for pound than your opponent’s.

In the case where your deck isn’t a bunch of awesome uncommons, you need to find other ways to make the deck competitive. Try focusing on synergies to have a functional deck that has a plan.

I think building a “deck” and not just a collection of great cards is an underrated skill in Magic.

For instance, many people think of R/W Aggro as a collection of good, aggressive creatures. The difference is that it is an “archetype” because the cards work well and synergize together. It just so happens that the synergy is in quickly reducing an opponent to zero by attacking! Everything works together.

My deck, on the other hand, has the tools and synergies to grind an opponent to dust.

Literally.

I can trade off early and then use my powerful removal, recursion, and card advantage to eventually outlast a wide array of decks.

Harrier Naga or Colossapede may be objectively better cards than Grisly Survivor but the fact that I need these creatures to survive and return from Dusk // Dawn is a major part of my strategy in the long game.

Those Feral Prowlers are also a critical cog in the deck. They soak up damage, help me cycle through my deck, provide toughness for my 3 Lethal Stings, and all return later in the game to clog up the board.

The deck also had the element of surprise on its side. It is very difficult for any opponent to understand what is going on while I’m playing this deck. From turn 1 on, I’m planning to rebuy my deck with Dawn and no opponent will suspect that is how the game is going to end!

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative

If I had just taken the “best card” once my Draft was derailed, I am convinced I would have 0-3’d the draft. The key to salvaging a broken Draft is to think about what you have and how you are going to make it work together to do something that can actually win games.

Was I fortunate to find a Dusk // Dawn? Yes. But I identified it and found a way to make it work, which is something that a lot of players might not have considered. Snapping off the Cataract also gave me a lot of options.

I know that we may be done with Hour of Devastation Limited, but I think these are rules and strategies that apply to drafting any format. When your Draft is in trouble, focus on what you have and on finding synergistic ways to make those cards work together as a deck with a focus.

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