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Signal Blessing

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The letter I!n last week's bonus exercise we opened up a pack that contained...

Agony Warp
Blightning
Angelsong
Bant Panorama
Blood Cultist
Bloodpyre Elemental
Lightning Talons
Memory Erosion
Necrogenesis
Obelisk of Grixis
Sighted-Caste Sorcerer
Sunseed Nurturer
Tortoise Formation
Undead Leotau

...and took the Agony Warp without much thought. Even though we had a pretty easy pick, it's important to keep in mind that the best cards we passed were Necrogenesis and Blood Cultist and, to a lesser extent, Bant Panorama and Blightning.

Then we got passed our next pack:

Blister Beetle
Cavern Thoctar
Cruel Ultimatum
Crumbling Necropolis
Dispeller's Capsule
Dregscape Zombie
Jhessian Infiltrator
Kederekt Creeper
Relic of Progenitus
Ridge Rannet
Savage Hunger
Spell Snip
Tower Gargoyle

When we're drafting, we usually don't have enough time to think about the implications or the viability of every card in the pack (even though we want to!). But since we don't have a time limit when we're doing a bonus exercise, we can spend a lot of extra time thinking about the implications of the other cards in the pack.

First off, let's break down the pack and eliminate our nonviable options.

Playable, decent: Spell Snip, Savage Hunger, Relic of Progenitus, and Dispeller's Capsule are all cards that I've played in main decks before. But other than the anti-unearth, anti-Sanctum Gargoyle Relic, I've never been happy to include them in my main deck.

Playable, good: Dregscape Zombie, Blister Beetle, Cavern Thoctar, Jhessian Infiltrator, Kederekt Creeper and Ridge Rannet are all pretty good cards, but they just can't stand up to the high bar set by the three other top-notch cards in the pack.

Dregscape Zombie and Blister Beetle don't have any color conflicts with Agony Warp, but they just aren't that powerful. If I get either of them when the pack comes back around, I will be more than happy to add it to my deck, but there are going to be plenty more opportunities to get good two-drops. There aren't going to be many more opportunities to get bombs or awesome mana fixing.

Jhessian Infiltrator is a good card, but it costs Green ManaBlue Mana, which while it shares blue with Agony Warp also has green in its mana cost. Now if you've played the format a lot you already know plenty of reasons why you don't want to be green-blue-black. The main reason why you wouldn't want to follow up a blue-black card with a green card is that there is no blue-black-green shard. It's not quite as intense as being four colors, but it's close. It's a lot easier to make the mana work for an on-shard three-color deck such as white-blue-black or blue-black-red than for one that's, say, green-blue-black, and you get access to more gold cards in your on-shard deck!

There will definitely be times when it is right to draft a three-color off-shard deck. However, since being off-shard generally isn't a desirable position to be in, you want to wait until later in the draft to make sure that being off-shard is where you want to be. Oh, and also, Jhessian Infiltrator just isn't as good as say, Tower Gargoyle.

Cavern Thoctar and Ridge Rannet are both good monsters, but at that stage of the game you'd be way better off playing a Tower Gargoyle or a Cruel Ultimatum. And sure, Kederekt Creeper is good, but once you're already paying three colors of mana for a card, you could play the far superior Tower Gargoyle or the game-ending Cruel Ultimatum.

One more thing to note, though it shouldn't affect our pick this time: because there are six good cards and three great cards in the pack, we are guaranteed to get at least one more good card out of this pack.

The cream of the crop: Now that we've gone through the rest, let's take a look at the best.

The choice ultimately comes down to Crumbling Necropolis, Tower Gargoyle, or Cruel Ultimatum.

I noticed that a lot of very experienced players suggested that Crumbling Necropolis was the safe pick in this pack. While normally taking a tri-land is the safe pick, in this pack it isn't. In fact, I'm about to tell you why I think it's a more dangerous pick than Cruel Ultimatum in this pack.

And yes, I'm being serious.

Keep in mind that this is the pack that got passed to us. The person who opened this pack probably saw the three awesome blue-black-X cards and decided to stay as far away from blue-black as possible. There's a common missing from the pack, so our neighbor took either a foil (unlikely, but certainly possible) or a top-notch common like Oblivion Ring or Branching Bolt, that would set him up to draft a deck that wouldn't force him to fight with both of his leftward neighbors.

That means that our neighbor to the right, the person who is feeding us for two packs, probably wants us to be blue and black. Which, fortunately, meshes perfectly with our first pick Agony Warp.

But what are the implications of taking Crumbling Necropolis?

In the first pack that we passed, the two players to our left most likely took Blood Cultist and Necrogenesis. So, if we took the Crumbling Necropolis, it's quite likely that whoever took the Blood Cultist will get the Cruel Ultimatum and whoever took the Necrogenesis will get the Tower Gargoyle.

That means that we're likely to have the two players behind us drafting black if we take the Crumbling Necropolis. That means that we probably won't want to go heavy black, especially after passing a pack with two of the best black cards in the set. I hate to be blunt, but what more can you realistically hope for than a Tower Gargoyle or a Cruel Ultimatum?

And if black is going to be a splash, and we've likely put the two players to our left into Esper and Jund, then what is our Crumbling Necropolis going to be able to do for us?

Oftentimes, not much.

Not only that, but we actually put our Agony Warp into serious danger as the people to our left are going to be drafting blue and black. If we choose to abandon our Agony Warp (or treat it as a light splash that the Crumbling Necropolis can help us support) and move into a non-blue-black deck then we are likely going to end up in direct conflict with the player to our right.

While we might get paid off in pack 2 with our non-blue-black deck, we'll be putting ourselves into a much worse position in pack 1 and pack 3 to do so.

So, what looked like the safest pick actually turns out to be a pick that not only has a low chance to be relevant, but will also force us into conflicts with both of our neighbors to the left if it does end up being relevant. Ouch.

I know the logic that goes into this is a bit complicated, but I think the takeaway from this is really important and it just might save your life draft someday.

With Crumbling Necropolis out of the way, the pick comes down to Tower Gargoyle versus Cruel Ultimatum.

This is a really tough pick. Both Cruel Ultimatum and Tower Gargoyle are bombs. Tower Gargoyle is much easier to pay for, but if you've ever played a Cruel Ultimatum, or had a Cruel Ultimatum played against you, you know how devastating it is.

Yes Cruel Ultimatum is expensive, but it's exactly the type of card that's worth paying a lot of mana for. Cruel Ultimatum asks for more, but it gives it all back the second you play it.

I would agonize over this pick for a while before ultimately choosing the Cruel Ultimatum. It's just too good to pass up on. You don't often get to play with cards that will win you the game on the spot, so it's easy to forget what that means.

If the game is even remotely close when you play Cruel Ultimatum, you're just going to win. Think about that for a second. All that you have to do is keep the game close until you hit seven mana and you're going to win. Yowza.

The downside is that there are times when you won't be able to draft a deck that can support Cruel Ultimatum. And there are times when you're just going to die before it can come online (and this could easily happen if your opponent plays something like a turn-four Tower Gargoyle).

While Tower Gargoyle is great, I'm willing to take a risk on the ultimately more powerful Ultimatum.

This is a really interesting pack that forces us to consider signals much more than the average pack does. Oh, and if you were confused by this, don't worry—I'll be sure to talk more in depth about signaling soon.

Junderstand the Problem?

When I started drafting the format, I had a lot of trouble winning with Jund decks, and I just couldn't understand why. I would win if I had drafted a fast token / devour deck or something with Jund Charm, Infest, or two Magma Sprays, but otherwise I would just get trounced. And to be perfectly honest with you, I couldn't figure out why I kept losing ....

Now you've probably already guessed why I was losing: my decks were simply too slow!

The only way that I could make up for the lack of speed was by picking up an awesome sweeper or some cheap removal, but even then I was having difficulty winning.

For some reason, whenever I would draft Jund, I would take too many four-plus-drops, practically ignoring the lower end of my curve.

Because my decks were so slow, and my curves so high, I was getting blown out time and time again by cards like Excommunicate or Angelic Benediction or Resounding Wave, because I just wouldn't have enough of a board presence when I started playing my five-drops.

So, just because you have a lot of powerful cards doesn't mean that you can ignore your curve. If anything, having a lot of powerful cards should act as an incentive for you to pay further attention to your curve, feeling safe in the knowledge that you will have excellent plays as the game goes on.

Step One: Fix It!

Once I realized what was wrong, I was able to fix the problem pretty quickly and started winning more with the ultra-powerful Jund shard. But how did I fix my problem?

I was valuing expensive cards, such as Carrion Thrash, quite highly in my Jund decks. And while this normally wouldn't be a problem, there are just so many good five-drops to choose from in green, black, and red that I'd almost always end up with an excess of expensive stuff by the end of the draft, often lacking key early plays.

So, I made some adjustments to my valuations during the first and second pack. Now when I see a Rockslide Elemental and a Bloodpyre Elemental, I'll take the Rockslide Elemental. A Hissing Iguanar and a Carrion Thrash, I'll take the Hissing Iguanar, etc.

So, if you notice that you're having trouble winning with a certain type of deck, try drafting it differently. You just might find that things start working out your way.

Evaluation Station: Welkin Guide

Welkin Guide is a card that I see misevaluated all the time. Most of the time when a card is being commonly misevaluated in Limited, it's either being consistently overvalued or consistently undervalued. That isn't the case with Welkin Guide. I've seen people say that they'll take Welkin Guide as high as third pick, and I've seen other players say that they'll never play it.

In actuality, Welkin Guide should be valued somewhere in between those two points. Welkin Guide is a solid role-player that can help you win a race, or act as a much-needed finisher for your green deck. However, that doesn't mean that we can ignore the fact that Welkin Guide is still a five-mana 2/2.

You should feel comfortable taking Welkin Guide from about sixth pick on, or possibly a little bit earlier if your deck has a lot of exalted and not many ways to break through for damage.

 

Bonus Exercise

You just sat down for a Tuesday night draft at the local shop. There are some good players in your draft, but there are also some very inexperienced players who you know will need at least a few more drafts before they start drafting powerhouse decks.

You open up your first pack and it contains:

Soul's Grace
Cathartic Adept
Steward of Valeron
Thorn-Thrash Viashino
Executioner's Capsule
Vithian Stinger
Glaze Fiend
Skeletal Kathari
Shore Snapper
Call to Heel
Bant Battlemage
Blood Cultist
Bant Charm
Gather Specimens

What do you take?

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