Limited_Information

Top-Down Drafting

  • Boards
  • Print
Author Image

The letter L!ast week I went over my list of the most underrated cards in Alara Reborn. The top of that list was littered with overpowered Esper cards. Esper cards that rely on you having a lot of artifacts.


While that will sometimes fall into your lap, drafting isn't just about having fortuitous things happen to you, it's about setting things up so that good things can (and often will) happen to you. More often than not, you are going to have to work to get the requisite number of artifacts to make cards like Arsenal Thresher, Ethersworn Shieldmage, and Faerie Mechanist to be as good as they can be.



So how do you set yourself up so those 8th-pick Faerie Mechanists mean something to you? And shouldn't you always just take the best card, with respect to your colors and curve out of every pack?

The Impracticality of Pick Orders

In order to make those Faerie Mechanists mean something, you should not just take the abstract "best card" out of every pack.

While I am not completely opposed to the idea of having a pick order for a specific archetype, or ranking cards for first-pick, first-pack purposes, having a "pick order" for the entire set strikes me as being more harmful than helpful.

The correct pick* is determined through context, not through abstract valuations. Sure it's useful to know roughly how you value each of the cards in the set, but it's often irrelevant exactly how you've ranked cards in the abstract,

If you're trying to decide between Sanctum Gargoyle and Sigiled Paladin when you've already drafted a Scourglass and an Executioner's Capsule, then you'd be doing yourself a pretty big injustice if you didn't take the Sanctum Gargoyle. It doesn't matter if you have Sigiled Paladin ranked higher than Sanctum Gargoyle in the abstract, in this case the 2/3 flier is just a much stronger pick.

In order to become a good drafter you need to understand what cards are good. In order to become a very good drafter you need to understand what cards best further your draft in a positive way.

Religiously following pick orders is an easy way to stunt your development as a drafter, as you are not thinking about why you are doing what you are doing. And if you're not thinking, you probably aren't learning.

* When figuring out the correct pick you should take into account personal preference.

Drafting an Archetype

The key to successful archetype drafting is to take cards that not only work well with what you've already drafted, but will allow you to maximize the value of cards that you will draft. So if you're trying to draft an awesome Esper deck, you need to draft artifacts—and lots of 'em.

That means that if you're given the choice between two reasonably close cards, such as Skeletal Kathari and Cloudheath Drake, and one of them is an artifact, then there's really no choice at all. You take the artifact.


You might really like Viscera Dragger, but if you're trying to draft Esper and you see a Metalurgeon, a Windwright Mage, or possibly even an Ethersworn Canonist, then guess what? You should be taking the artifact.

Now, I'm not saying that you should go crazy about this. You still don't need any Marble Chalices or Mindlock Orbs, but those Court Homunculuses and Glaze Fiends should be making their way into your stack whenever possible.

The same principle holds true for any archetype. If you're trying to draft a five-color deck then you need a lot of mana fixing. If you're trying to draft a Naya 5-power deck then you need a lot of 5-power creatures and accelerators. If you're trying to draft an exalted deck .... You get the idea.

Sometimes players wait until they're a few picks into the draft before they start drafting in terms of a specific archetype. Other times players will draft with an archetype in mind from pick one.

Kids, Don't Try This at Home

Please note that the following picks were made by trained professionals. If you see your friend making these picks, or you are thinking about making these picks, then there better be some pretty good reasons.

During his first pod at Pro Tour–Honolulu, former Rookie of the Year and two-time Pro Tour Top 8er Sebastian Thaler first-picked a Kathari Screecher out of a pack that contained Vein Drinker and Rhox War Monk.


I'd be lying if I said that I agreed with this pick. I don't. I would never make it in a million years, and I think that he's a little bit crazy for doing so.

But that doesn't mean that he's wrong.

Thaler didn't want to make substantial color commitments with his first pick, and he thought that he would be in a very good position to draft an aggressive white-blue deck after passing that pack—an archetype that he clearly held in very high estimation.

In this case, I believe that Thaler took archetype concerns much too seriously. If Kathari Screecher were a better card (Thaler picked up another Screecher 10th pick), or white-blue beatdown a more powerful and harder to attain archetype, then I think this pick would have had more merit.

As I see it, one of blue-white's biggest strengths in Shards / Conflux / Reborn draft is that it is not a highly sought-after archetype, allowing you to rake in important cards very late ... provided your neighbors aren't also drafting white-blue.

For this type of archetype, I strongly prefer to wait and see if it's available, whereas Thaler is willing to fight to make it happen.

For a less extreme example of going out of your way to position yourself for white-blue, in the Top 8 of Pro Tour–Honolulu Michael Hebky took a Deft Duelist over Crumbling Necropolis, Executioner's Capsule, Vithian Stinger, and Fire-Field Ogre.


While there is something to be said for taking a card that won't leave you slugging it out with your neighbors over colors, this pick wasn't just about setting up a friendly neighbor situation. This pick was all about setting up an archetype.

While I don't know Hebky, if you asked him what he thought the most powerful card in this pack was, there's about a 0% chance that he would say that he thought it was the Deft Duelist.

But he took it anyway.

Why?

Because he wanted to be white-blue of course!

In Thaler and Hebky's practice drafts, they were probably mopping up with white-blue. If they thought that being in white-blue gave them a huge edge for Pro Tour–Honolulu, then their picks make perfect sense.

I didn't have that much success with white-blue during my practice drafts, so I think their picks are pretty zany.

But they made the picks that they believed gave them the best chance of winning. So at that moment, when they made that pick, they were making the right choice for them. The choice that they believed gave them the best chance of success given what they knew and believed about the format.

Whether they still believe that they made the right pick, or whether you or I believe that they made the right pick, is important for the future, but it's not the only way to evaluate their decisions.

So while I would not go out of my way to force white-blue, there is one archetype that I was, and still am, willing to jump through hoops to get ....

Forcing an Archetype

While I was preparing for Pro Tour–Honolulu, one of the things that I tried doing was forcing Esper regardless of what my first few picks might suggest I should do.


There were drafts where I would take Windwright Mage over Jund Charm and Magma Spray first pick, and I'd be happy about it. I'd be happy because I knew that I would most likely be able to put the two people on my left into non-Esper decks and I'd soon reap the rewards. If the people on my right weren't in Esper either, then I'd be in luck and my deck would end up being awesome.

Sometimes the person on my right would be drafting Esper after I first-picked a Courier's Capsule over Knight of the Skyward Eye and Realm Razor. And while I thought that would lead to disastrous results, those drafts actually turned out fine because between me and the person to my right we would pass basically no Esper cards, allowing me to rake in the goodies in pack two.

I made these types of kooky picks because I felt that Esper was an extremely powerful archetype that was worth going out of your way to draft—far, far out of your way. Ultimately, while forcing Esper turned out to be fine strategy, it didn't yield the results that I could get by just drafting intelligently and listening to the packs, so I stopped doing it.

While I wouldn't recommend forcing Esper every time, it's certainly worth it to try it. At the very least it is an interesting exercise in demonstrating the amount of power that you can have over your neighbors to the left.

However, there is one fatal flaw associated with forcing Esper as opposed to forcing something like five-color control. While five-color control needs only good cards and mana fixing to work, Esper relies on a high density of artifacts. If you don't get those artifacts then you're in trouble. Big Trouble. And that type of potential trouble is exactly why we don't all just force our favorite archetypes in every draft.

Forcing an Archetype vs. Forcing a Color


Shards of Alara block is all about archetypes, not colors. I could take every white card that I saw out of pack one and the person on my left could wind up in Esper, and the person two to my left could end up in Naya, and they might not even notice that someone was going out of their way to grab white.

But in many formats, colors are what you force. When Magic 2010 gets released in a few weeks, there will be a very low density of gold cards (if there even are any). That means that each color is going to matter a lot more than it does in Shards block draft. If you are forcing white in an M10 draft, then you better believe that the people around you are going to feel it.

I'll save further speculation about how to make your will felt in M10 until closer to the release, but I'll say right now that I'm excited about a return to more traditional forms of drafting and color forcing.


Bonus Exercise

You are playing in a Shards / Conflux / Reborn draft. Magic 2010 rules are in effect.

 Magic 2010 Combat Rules Changes  

As of July 10, combat damage no longer uses the stack. As soon as damage is assigned in the combat damage step, it is dealt. There is no time to cast spells and activate abilities in between; the last time to do so prior to damage being dealt is during the declare blockers step.

During the declare blockers step, if a creature is blocked by multiple creatures, the attacker immediately announces an order in which that attacking creature will assign damage to the blockers. When it comes time to actually deal the damage, lethal damage must be assigned to the first blocker before any can be assigned to the second, and so on. All damage is dealt simultaneously; this doesn't change how the blockers deal damage to the attacker.

For more details and corner cases, see the Magic 2010 Rules Changes article.

Question #1


You're attacking with a Woolly Thoctar that is being blocked by Canyon Minotaur and Cylian Elf. You and your opponent are both at 20 life.

Your hand: Mosstodon, Sylvan Bounty, Nacatl Outlander, Predator Dragon

Your lands: Forest, Forest, Forest, Mountain, Plains (all untapped)

Your creatures: Woolly Thoctar (tapped, attacking, blocked by Canyon Minotaur and Cylian Elf)

Your opponent's hand: Four cards

Your opponent's lands: Jungle Shrine and Forest (untapped), Plains and Forest (tapped)

Your opponent's creatures: Cylian Elf, Canyon Minotaur (blocking Woolly Thoctar)

How do you order the blockers?




Question #2


You're attacking with a Woolly Thoctar that is being blocked by Canyon Minotaur and Cylian Elf. You and your opponent are both at 20 life.

Your hand: Mosstodon, Sylvan Bounty, Nacatl Outlander, Resounding Thunder

Your lands: Forest, Forest, Forest, Mountain, Plains (all untapped)

Your creatures: Woolly Thoctar (tapped, attacking blocked by Canyon Minotaur and Cylian Elf)

Your opponent's hand: Four cards

Your opponent's lands: Jungle Shrine and Forest (untapped), Plains and Forest (tapped)

Your opponent's creatures: Cylian Elf, Canyon Minotaur (blocking Woolly Thoctar)

How do you order the blockers?



Question #3


You're being attacked by Woolly Thoctar. You are at 5 life and your opponent is at 28.

Your hand: Sigil Blessing, Colossal Might, Might of Alara, Gleam of Resistance

Your lands: Forest, Mountain, Plains, Plains, Plains (all untapped)

Your creatures: Cylian Elf, Canyon Minotaur

Your opponent's hand: Two cards

Your opponent's lands: Jungle Shrine, Forest, Mountain, Plains, Plains (all untapped)

Your opponent's creatures: Woolly Thoctar (tapped, attacking)

How do you block? What do you do after (or before) you block?



Question #4


You're being attacked by Woolly Thoctar. You are at 5 life and your opponent is at 28.

Your hand: Sigil Blessing, Plains, Plains, Plains

Your lands: Forest, Mountain, Plains, Plains, Plains (all untapped)

Your creatures: Cylian Elf, Canyon Minotaur

Your opponent's hand: Two cards

Your opponent's lands: Jungle Shrine, Forest, Mountain, Plains, Plains (all untapped)

Your opponent's creatures: Woolly Thoctar (tapped, attacking)

How do you block? What do you do after (or before) you block?

  • Planeswalker Points
  • Facebook Twitter
  • Gatherer: The Magic Card Database
  • Forums: Connect with the Magic Community
  • Magic Locator