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Utter Beatings – Flexible Drafting

In his last article, LSV outlined why he likes to move in on archetypes early in SCR. My approach is a bit different, so today I have a rebuttal presenting a different viewpoint on the format.

The most important thing to take away from Luis’s article is how important it is to have a focused deck, and on this point I couldn’t agree more. In my opinion planning on moving in on an archetype starting with pick two every draft is a bit extreme, but the approach is very indicative of just how important it is to have a cohesive plan in this format. In my experience, midrangey decks full of good creatures and removal spells, but with no real synergy or plan, are not very successful in SCR. There are lots of powerful synergies in the format, and to compete with them unfocused decks are hugely reliant on abstract card quality. Very rarely does an unfocused deck get the kind of card quality it needs to make the deck good.

Linear Drafting

There is a huge advantage in drafting a linear deck, as you get cards that are very good for you quite late. Obviously Esper is the best example of this, as highly linear cards like Arsenal Thresher and Thopter Foundry go very late and are just absurd in the decks that can abuse them. But pretty much any focused deck is able to get a ton of extra value from its later picks, as there are plenty of cards that are good in very specific decks, but that few drafters are able to take advantage of. Rip-Clan Crasher, Sighted-Caste Sorcerer, Kathari Screecher, Resounding Wave, Obelisks, domain cards, and so on – such cards are abundant in Shards and Conflux, and span all archetypes. A non-focused deck is looking for the same cards that everyone else wants, so its cards dry up much more quickly than a focused deck’s, and its later picks are far worse as a result.

It is very important to have a plan for what you want your deck to look like even early in the draft to really take advantage of the more linear cards. For example, if you are in Esper and have the choice between Scavenger Drake and Cloudheath Drake, you definitely want to take the Cloudheath. Even if you think the Scavenger is abstractly better, and even if it fits better with your picks so far, it is most likely going to end up being worse in your deck. When you consider all of the “artifact matters” cards you expect to be drafting later on, the synergies are going to make Cloudheath better in your deck. A non-artifact creature needs to be pretty ridiculous to make the cut in a good Esper deck; Grixis Slavedriver qualifies, but filler like Kathari Screecher does not. The same ideas apply to any archetype – plan ahead for what your deck is likely* to look like. With, say, Rip-Clan Crasher versus Cavern Thoctar, you can expect more cards like Jund Hackblade and Colossal Might that play better with Crasher than cards that would prefer Cavern Thoctar.

* Note the distinction between planning ahead for what your deck is likely to look like, versus what it is going to look like. You can’t always know what direction the draft will take, but you should have a pretty good idea of how likely different possibilities are.

Moving on In

I completely agree with Luis that you want to move in on a specific archetype; my disagreement is merely when you should do so. Luis likes to be locked in on one plan as early as his second pick, but I feel like you are better off keeping your options open for most of the first pack. It’s all about costs and benefits. The costs of staying flexible are maybe a couple of early draft picks (and sending slightly worse signals). It is pretty unlikely you are giving up even full draft picks, as you can make non-commital picks without giving up much value, and your early picks will have a lot of overlap between different archetypes. Taking Scavenger Drake over Cloudheath Drake in the first few picks is not going to hurt you that much if you do end up in Esper, while keeping your options open can completely change the direction of the draft for the better. The costs of staying flexible are small, and the upsides potentially very large.

Luis cites the strength of Alara Reborn as one the reasons committing early is not problematic. Even if you are getting cut off, the pack’s depth will ensure you still have a reasonable booster and pick up plenty of good cards. But the drafters cutting you are ending up with even better cards and even better decks; being in an open archetype is just as important for Reborn as it is for the other packs. It’s not like the cards in Reborn are all equally awesome. The power level across the board is higher than in the other two sets, but there are equivalent differences in strength between cards within the set. Be careful not to confuse getting a lot of power from Reborn with the draft going well, as it is pretty hard to not get a lot out of the pack. Reborn is really only good for you if it helps you more than it helps the other drafters at the table. You should be doing what you reasonably can to maximize what you get out of the pack. Reborn’s strength is actually an incentive towards drafting flexibly. Giving up value on your early picks in pack one as you figure out what is open is an investment, and you see your returns later in pack one and in all of pack three. The third pack being much more powerful than the first two packs makes the investment that much more worthwhile.

A big part of the reason that Luis commits to decks as early as he does is that there are really only two decks he wants to draft: Esper and green beatdown. Through the lens of only those two archetypes existing, yeah, you probably have a clear direction after your first pick, and yeah, you should do what you can to continue in that direction. But there are many, many more coherent and synergistic possibilities. Even if you think that Esper, GW, and GR are far better than other archetypes (and I believe that is only true of Esper), it is not always correct to draft one of them. You are more likely to, of course, so your early picks should reflect your preference, but you still should remain open to other possibilities. Displaying preference for archetypes you believe are stronger is in your best interests, but doing so to the extent of ignoring other options is not.

If you have had particular success with a limited subset of archetypes, I wouldn’t advise you to ignore your preferences in an important event, but in the long run you will become a better drafter if you can expand your horizons. If you are open to the possibility of drafting one of many archetypes, you can still work towards a focused deck without having to actually commit immediately to one direction.

I can’t imagine ever taking Puppet Conjurer over Branching Bolt in SCR, but that is largely because I am not averse to playing Tower Gargoyle and Branching Bolt in the same deck. If instead your second pick is the choice of Tower Gargoyle plus Puppet Conjurer versus just Branching Bolt, taking the Puppet Conjurer does make a lot of sense. That just isn’t how I view the pick.

The earlier you lock yourself into an archetype, the higher variance your draft is going to be. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind. The more risk-averse you are, the more flexible you should be in the draft. If you are one of the weaker players in your pod, moving in and hoping you get shipped the blade aggro deck is probably the play. If instead you are one of the better drafters, you should minimize variance when presented with the choice.

Pick one Cruel Ultimatum versus Oblivion Ring is a pretty interesting choice, as it is illustrative of how much you value flexibility. Cruel Ultimatum is the more powerful card, no question, but your draft will have much higher variance if you take the Cruel. I would go with the safer Oblivion Ring unless I needed to 3-0 the draft or the draft was full of better players.

The big risk of being noncommittal is that you fail to ever really commit. When you are staying flexible and don’t yet have a clear direction, it can be very difficult to actually pull the trigger and move in on an archetype, but you need to make sure you do so at some point. I think there is a lot of merit in Luis’s approach, because of how important it is to have a focused, synergistic deck. Especially if you struggle with settling on a plan in your drafts, you will benefit from moving in on a deck quite early. I just think that with a little bit of flexibility, you can do better.

Thanks for reading! (ok, that was me – LSV, who knows Josh hates anything resembling a conclusion)

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