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When Drafts Go Bad

Thank you, everyone, for the support over my last article. Thank you also to those who left criticism of the content (and not of me). There was such a response to my last article! I guess it was to be expected, I mean, what a wonderfully lush battlefield I provided. You could attack my gender, intelligence, play-skill and Planeswalker Points. The plan is for me to write regular articles so we should probably get over my gender. Yes, I’m a girl. If you still live in the 18th Century and thus believe this makes me less intelligent than you and unworthy of your notice then go read something else. I want to write articles that help people improve as Magic players using my experiences and also to provoke thoughtful discussions. If we keep getting bogged down with pointless comments about my sex then we can’t achieve that.

There was some criticism that I left out the costs of travel and board in my calculations last week. This is a fair point as these can be expensive, but they will also vary based on a lot of factors. Did you book early? Can you stay with a friend? Will you eat out often? I also left out my winnings; should they be counted? For the sake of argument I managed the whole trip (including entry fees) for about $1600 thanks to cheap food and a lovely sofa in San Francisco (thanks, Jules!). That would bring the maths to 0.58 points per dollar. Adding on my winnings of $800 would bring it up to about 1.2 points per dollar.

Lastly, I was sad that some people took my article as me agreeing with the system. I did not mean to give that impression. I have previously written about my view of the system, which can be found here, but I am prepared to use it as a means to qualify until, hopefully, it goes away. I would encourage people to put their views on the system into writing and email Scott Larabee at Wizards of the Coast rather than posting their complaints here.

Okay, those issues out of the way onto this week’s article: How to recover Drafts that have gone or are going horribly wrong. It happens to everyone. But what are the strategies when faced with these situations? Let’s have a look at some examples from my own Magic experiences to illustrate how we can still win our Drafts despite having non-optimal starts.

Plan A: Read the signals and adjust your Draft accordingly

I had a very entertaining Draft just recently that brought this to the forefront of my mind. After pick six I had a card in each colour and my final deck ran none of the first five. Yet I ended up with a deck that went 2-1, only just losing out in a close mirror match. Let’s take a closer look at the start of my Draft.

Pick 1:

[draft]Angel of Flight Alabaster
Tormented Pariah
Geistcatcher’s Rig
Trepanation Blade
Skirsdag Cultist
Voiceless Spirit
Mulch
Geistflame
Gruesome Deformity
Avacynian Priest
Traveler’s Amulet
Sensory Deprivation
Nightbird’s Clutches
Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/draft]

I think the pick from this is straightforward. [card]Angel of Flight Alabaster[/card] is just such a good card. Sadly, it did mean passing two good White cards, but that’s fine if I continue to cut the colour. Even if they stay in White I can pick up cards for my other colour in Pack 2 if necessary.

I have expounded on my dislike of P1P1 in Draft before. It is the moment where you can pick the most powerful or interesting card, but you may not even get to play it and it can blind you for the rest of the Draft. This can result in picking lacklustre cards that kinda fit your first pick, rather than drafting the better deck you are being passed. The important point here is not to marry your first pick. If you don’t see cards that go with it then let it go. Not all relationships are meant to work out. As we say in England, it’s no use flogging a dead horse.

Pick 2:

[draft]Murder of Crows
Abattoir Ghoul
Lumberknot
Thraben Sentry
Walking Corpse
Armored Skaab
Orchard Spirit
Curse of the Pierced Heart
Urgent Exorcism
Festerhide Boar
Feral Ridgewolf
Unruly Mob
Kindercatch
Silent Departure[/draft]

The rare is missing here. There are no White Spirits to allow us to continue on the theme of our first pick. However, [card]Murder of Crows[/card] is an excellent card and U/W fliers is a strong archetype to be drafting.

So far so good, nothing has particularly gone wrong…

Pick 3:

[draft]Rolling Temblor
Demonmail Hauberk
Villagers of Estwald
Vampiric Fury
Doomed Traveler
Woodland Sleuth
Ghoulcaller’s Bell
Elder Cathar
Hysterical Blindness
Shimmering Grotto
Altar’s Reap
Vampire Interloper[/draft]

This pack is just terrible. Most of the cards are uninspiring or for completely different strategies, such as [card]Vampire Interloper[/card]. The only card I am interested in is [card]Rolling Temblor[/card]. In a U/W fliers deck this card can be pretty powerful–getting to kill all their dudes while you reign supreme in the air.

The lack of playable Blue or White cards in this pack (except [card]Elder Cathar[/card]) is slightly troubling as they may be being drafted upstream of me, but the evidence isn’t hard enough yet. By taking the Temblor I can either draft a U/W Control deck splashing Red for removal or start to switch away from U/W if those colours are being blocked.

Pick 4:

[draft]Back from the Brink
Diregraf Ghoul
Vampire Interloper
Wooden Stake
Crossway Vampire
Stitcher’s Apprentice
Bump in the Night
Brain Weevil
Night Terrors
Darkthicket Wolf
Stromkirk Patrol[/draft]

This is where it starts to get a bit hairy. There are no fewer than six Black cards in this pack. It is therefore likely that nobody prior to me receiving the pack has taken a Black card out of it. I can also see that the person on my right took [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] from this pack so that explains where all the good Blue cards have been going. While none of the Black cards are awesome, [card]Diregraf Ghoul[/card] is a very good card in the aggressive R/B archetype, suggesting this may be open for me to move in. I have also seen a Vampire Interloper both in the previous pack and in this one, which supports this theory. With no other option I took the Ghoul.

This point in the Draft is a good example of how to remain flexible in the light of new information. Whilst the pack was obviously somewhat skewed in terms of colours, I have now seen a number of cards indicative of a certain archetype. I also haven’t seen any cards to support my original strategy so it looks like it may be time to jump ship.

Pick 5:

[draft]Curse of Stalked Prey
Rage Thrower
Into the Maw of Hell
Avacyn’s Pilgrim
Orchard Spirit
Sharpened Pitchfork
Think Twice
Walking Corpse
Night Terrors
Feeling of Dread[/draft]

Things are looking up in this pack. There is a card I actually want for my new strategy. [card]Rage Thrower[/card] is an excellent inclusion in an aggressive deck allowing the last points of damage to trickle through.

Sadly as I pass this pack on I see that my right hand opponent has taken a foil [card]Reckless Waif[/card] from the next pack. This puts him nicely into the U/R aggro deck and puts an end to dreams of B/R aggro. Now what?

Pick 6

[draft]Witchbane Orb
Dissipate
Darkthicket Wolf
Sensory Deprivation
Festerhide Boar
Spidery Grasp
Cloistered Youth
Skeletal Grimace
Thraben Purebloods[/draft]

Ah, it finally clicks into place. Green in the answer. Yes, I should take another colour… wait! No, no, no, how can this possibly end well? Well, if you look back over the last four picks there have been reasonable Green cards I could have taken at each stage. For example, in the mono-Black pack there was another Wolf, which I did consider, but the Black signal seemed somewhat stronger. In the last pack I only flicked over the Green because I believed I was now on the right track, but the Pilgrim and the Spirit are both reasonable to take there. This is why it important to note what you have seen during a draft as well as what you have taken. I wasn’t confident I was right to be taking the Wolf–I was rather tired of flitting around the colour wheel but I crossed my fingers and picked it.

I was rewarded the very next pack with a [card]Travel Preparations[/card]. I wheeled the Pilgrim from Pack 1 and the [card]Unruly Mob[/card] from Pack 2. In the next two boosters of the Draft I continued to see cards that supported the G/W Human strategy such as [card]Hamlet Captain[/card], [card]Butcher’s Cleaver[/card] and two more [card]Travel Preparations[/card]. Here is my final deck:

[deck]1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
2 Cloistered Youth
2 Darkthicket Wolf
2 Elder Cathar
1 Elder of Laurels
1 Gatstaf Shepherd
1 Hamlet Captain
1 Slayer of the Wicked
2 Unruly Mob
1 Village Bell-Ringer
1 Blazing Torch
1 Butcher’s Cleaver
1 Prey Upon
2 Ranger’s Guile
1 Smite the Monstrous
1 Spare from Evil
3 Travel Preparations
8 Forest
8 Plains[/deck]

I didn’t play the [card]Angel of Flight Alabaster[/card] from Pick 1. This was a mistake, and I had to board her in after every game 1. I had been concerned about running her with no Spirits to return and on the back on only 16 lands but this was an error on my part. Still, this is how we learn.

I’m not normally a fan of [card]Ranger’s Guile[/card], but I was actually quite impressed with it in this deck. I felt incredible confident whenever the card was in my hand and was able to walk blindly into [card]Rebuke[/card] or [card]Smite the Monstrous[/card].

I’m sure I will have a bunch of comments criticising my picks. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The fact of the matter is that while you are drafting you will make decisions that are non-optimal or wrong based on what you receive in the next pack. Who hasn’t agonised between two cards only to pick one and receive the same one in the next pack? If you had perfect information you would obviously take the one you weren’t about to be passed if you wanted a copy of each. The important skill to develop is, based on what you have taken so far, how you can still turn your Draft into a winning event.

All-in-all, this Draft was a powerful reminder for me about how to not panic when it all seems to be going pear shaped. By keeping a steady head and remembering the information you have seen you can find the way to a winning Draft deck. As they say on coffee mugs: keep calm and carry on.

Plan B: Go aggressive, play game winning cards

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we can’t get a grip on the signals and it all spirals horribly out of control. Afterwards we are left trying to build a deck that can win, with cards in all sorts of colours, and some of which would be put to better use as a method of eating pasta. When this occurs I will tend to lean towards picking up more aggressive cards during the draft and then build the most aggressive deck I can. The logic for this is that for a slower deck to work you need to have an ace (or aces) in the hole. Otherwise you will simply lose to your opponent’s aces. However, an aggressive deck can steal some quick wins from opponents with awkward mana-bases or slower decks.

I have combined another option in Plan B, although really they can go separately: play game winning cards. You may have had the option to pick up some tasty bombs during the Draft. For example: you are drafting a G/W deck like the one above but at the moment it is rather lacklustre, as you have failed to find any of the cards that make the deck tick such as [card]Travel Preparations[/card]. In Pack 3 you open [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card]. At 2{B}{B} it is a heavy strain as a splash, and I know many people that would simple pass it up. I also know people that would hate Draft it–if you can’t beat it make sure no one has it. But then they won’t look at it again for the rest of the Draft. However, there is a third option–if you can’t beat it, run it! [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] (aside from being the card I most loathe in Innistrad Limited) is a classic example of a bomb rare. If it is not answered by your opponent immediately it will in all likelihood win you the game (I have managed to sneak wins under the nose of [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] twice but both were exceptional circumstances).

There is a caveat here. If you have a solid, robust deck with a plan, you should not splash the ridiculously powerful card. For example, I would not run [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] in the example deck from Plan A as it does not need it in order to win matches. To compromise the mana-base would result in the loss of more games than the Keeper could justify. However, consider the deck below:

[deck]1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
2 Cloistered Youth
1 Darkthicket Wolf
2 Elder Cathar
1 Gatstaf Shepherd
1 Grizzled Outcasts
1 Hamlet Captain
1 Thraben Sentry
1 Thraben Purebloods
2 Unruly Mob
2 Village Bell-Ringer
1 Woodland Sleuth
1 Blazing Torch
1 Prey Upon
1 Silver-Inlaid Dagger
1 Smite the Monstrous
1 Spare from Evil
1 Spidery Grasp
1 Ranger’s Guile
9 Forest
8 Plains[/deck]

It has been built as a G/W deck, and as aggressively as possible. Whilst the early curve looks good there is some rather less good inclusions such as [card]Thraben Purebloods[/card]. Also the deck only really needs 16 lands but the 24th card would be something unplayable such as [card]Boneyard Wurm[/card], which the deck isn’t designed to make good. Basically this deck looks like its not going to win many games. However what if we were to run this:

[deck]1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
1 Bloodline Keeper
2 Cloistered Youth
1 Darkthicket Wolf
2 Elder Cathar
1 Gatstaf Shepherd
1 Grizzled Outcasts
1 Hamlet Captain
1 Thraben Sentry
2 Unruly Mob
2 Village Bell-Ringer
1 Blazing Torch
1 Prey Upon
1 Silver-Inlaid Dagger
1 Smite the Monstrous
1 Spare from Evil
1 Spidery Grasp
1 Ranger’s Guile
7 Forest
6 Plains
5 Swamp[/deck]

I have removed two of the weaker cards in the deck and replaced them with [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card] and an extra land. When splashing a spell with double coloured mana in its casting cost I want to run at least five lands of that colour, so this normally necessitates going up to 18 mana sources. Luckily there are no other spells with double colour commitments in the deck, which also makes this inclusion relatively painless on our mana base. We still have an aggressive base for the deck that will hopefully win us some games but now we also have a powerful card that will hopefully carry us to even more victories.

In summary, there are at least three possible solutions to a Draft that is going rapidly downhill:

1. Read the signals and recover the Draft as it is in progress
2. Go aggressive
3. Stretch your mana-base to incorporate powerful cards that can win you games

I hope you have found this information useful and can use it to get yourself out of a sticky situation sometime soon. If you have any tips or suggestions for others (and myself) regarding this topic please go ahead and comment below.

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