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Stark Reality – Going with the Flow

 

Last week a number of people seemed to mention that my article was fairly short. I am guessing that this comes from people having liked it and wanting more to read. I generally try and write on a subject, not just fill space, so I covered the 2 points that I wanted to discuss. I always read all the comments and I appreciate the criticisms and compliments because I want to write about what people want to read. It is extremely valuable for me to learn which topics you guys want to read about. Also, if I am writing about things that you already know, then it is a waste of time and space. Basically I appreciate any and all reflections on what I am writing, but I am aware of the length. I definitely plan on some of my articles being 1500 words and some being 3000 words. I am much more interested in conveying my thoughts then filling an amount of space.

There are a lot of different things in Magic that have a certain flow to them. The exchange of information back and forth definitely does; and as we discussed last week, you can use it to your advantage. Booster drafting successfully has a lot of similarities. What you pass is your communication and you want to use the ability to communicate to your advantage. The current state of Zendikar booster draft on Magic Online has gotten out of hand. A quick look at my commons tells the tale. My most plentiful common is Relic Crush with 80, followed quickly with Grazing Gladehart at 77, Vines of Vastwood at 74, Oran-Rief Recluse at 71, Timbermaw Larva and Tanglesap at 68, Zendikar Farguide at 66, Stonework Puma at 61, Oran-Rief Survivalist at 60, Adventuring Gear at 58, Joraga Bardand Harrow at 57, and my first common with a color in the casting cost besides Green is Trapfinder’s Trick at 56. That’s a card that’s not even playable, so it just happens to hit my stack when there’s no playables left in the pack. After that it’s all the rest of the Green commons then the first playable commons with a color that aren’t Green are Kor Outfitters and Giant Scorpion at 53.

I play almost exclusively 8-4’s, so I don’t know if the 4-3-2-2’s look the same or if a draft at your local store is going the same way. Actually, I am curious to hear if drafts are going the same way in person as they are on Magic Online so please share, but either way it provides us with an interesting topic to discuss. If my draft strategy was to force Green these numbers wouldn’t mean anything, but I always try and read the draft and be open-minded. By now I may have a bias that I am not aware of, but my draft strategy has always been to read the draft and never to force colors. I think it is imperative not to disrupt the balance of a booster draft. Your goal should be to slide into the correct colors and have everything flow through you. Obviously when you have more of all the Green cards than any other color, you wouldn’t think of that as flow or balance. I think in a Magic Online 8-4 right now it is so out of balance that things that wouldn’t normally be correct may be the most successful strategy, or maybe it all balances out.

Balance

A booster draft has an automatic balance to it. Green may be the worst color in Zendikar Limited, meaning the cards are less powerful than the cards in other colors. Without anyone forcing anything, this means less of the drafters at the table with be playing Green, since less of them will have taken a Green card due to the Green cards being less powerful then the other cards in the pack. When you go out and say “no one else is playing green so I am going to”, you run the risk of drafting a terrible deck because the times the people around you choose to play Green you will end up with a poor deck because you are in a color being overdrafted in an unnatural way. Being in Black with 5-6 Black players doesn’t overdraft Black in an unnatural way; most people should have taken a powerful Black card with their first few picks.

You can see some areas where this could work out just fine and some areas where it could lead to a poor draft. If a color is both deep and powerful like Black is in Zendikar, it doesn’t really matter how many people play it because it can support a lot of players and still provide them with good draft decks. Sometimes we have encountered draft formats where a color has had several of the most powerful commons in the set but it hasn’t been particularly deep. This is often the case with Red or Black since removal is so powerful in draft and these colors usually have the removal. When you encounter these formats what normally happens is you have to pair your early powerful picks with a deeper color in order to have enough good cards to make a deck. This most commonly means playing something like Green/Black or Green/Red, White/Black or White/Red. Of course different colors are deep in each format and it’s more useful to be able to understand why colors are complimenting each other on a more abstract level then me telling you what goes with what. If you can better your understanding of that, you can generally booster draft any format.

What is going on in Zendikar is not the norm for most formats. The colors with the most powerful commons are also the deepest colors. When people weren’t aware of this, a Black/Red deck was almost unbeatable. Now that the balance has set in and everyone is clawing and scratching to get Red or Black, I tend to end up with all the Green cards because I always try and be flexible and see what is coming, and right now, Green is always coming. It got summed up for me in a draft the other day when I opened a weak pack that had maybe 5-6 decent playables. The best card in the pack was clearly Marsh Casualties and the best green card was Vines of the Vastwood. I thought about how open Green was but took the Casualties anyway. Then I got hit by a never-ending barrage of good Green cards and saw almost no Black. I didn’t mind; Casualties is a fine card for your support color, since it can be cast in a deck with say 11 Forest, 7 Swamps, and 1 Harrow just fine. I thought everything was going the way it should, with me taking a powerful card with an early pick then ending up in one of the deeper but weaker colors.

That was until the Vines tabled. People had to take unplayable cards out of the pack and Vines was the second or third best card in the entire pack.

So what can you do in a world this warped? You can lean towards Green. Outright forcing it is still very dangerous because if the guy passing to you ends up Green you are not going to end up with a very good deck. Also, you really don’t want to play Green at a table with 3 or more Green drafters. This is exactly what happened to me in the Top Eight of the Orlando PTQ last week and my draft deck ended up coming up short as a result. Part of the problem was my inclination toward Green and part of the problem was the guy passing to me didn’t really know how to value the Green cards, so when I got a 7th pick Harrow, I assumed Green was probably open.

First pick I was faced with the choice of Gatekeeper of Malakir or Predatory Urge. I think the Gatekeeper is the stronger card, but due to the splashability of Urge and the fact that you can play it in a deck with Green as your main or support color I went with it first pick. Second pick there was a Journey to Nowhere for me as a clear pick with no Green or Black cards. After that, I saw more Black than Green but enough Green to keep me in it. This was my mistake; I should have realized that Black was open. Black usually isn’t open so you have to plan for not seeing it. When you do see it though, you should quickly be ready to move right into it. This creates the natural balance in this format. Now that everyone knows Black is the nuts, you can’t expect to see it and you have to undervalue something like Gatekeeper in your first few picks pack 1 but still be ready to move into Black when you do see it, because its far better to play Black without your first 3 picks then it is to fight over Green even if your first 3 packs were good first pick quality cards.

Prioritize

My point, if it wasn’t clear, is that I think it is correct to prioritize Green cards over Black cards pick with your early picks because it is much more likely that you will seen Green than Black, but it is also correct to drop those Green cards as fast as you can when you find out that Black is open. It only takes 1 pack of seeing sick Black cards to have an insane deck. If you realize by around pick 4 or 5 of pack 1 that you should be Black, it is correct for you to ditch your early picks and go Black. I think Green should only be able to support 2 drafters per draft.

As a booster drafter I think it is important to let the draft flow. If you try and force things then you disrupt what would naturally present itself. The reason in this particular format it is so important to take artifacts first pick is that you need to see which color is coming to you and draft it. If you miss the opportunity to get into the one color that the person to your right and person to his right aren’t, then you miss the opportunity to draft your best deck. However, in the case of Black I think it is good enough if the person feeding you isn’t Black; I don’t think you need to be seeing it for two seats.

Even though the colors might not be balanced, I think the format is. Since I have gotten back home from Worlds my record in the MTGO 8-4’s has been spectacular. I have been chopping or winning almost every draft. Obviously from the display of my commons you can see that I play Green by far the most. To give you a little more perspective on my drafting, the playable commons that I have the least of are Torch Slinger at 27 and Bladetusk Boar at 32. This makes even more sense because I am not a huge fan of either of those cards and since Red and Black are so overdrafted it is very difficult to get mono-Red decks. That means normally I am prioritizing cards of my other color over Red cards when I am drafting Red. Black, on the other hand, is deep enough that sometimes you still get mono-Black even though it’s being overdrafted in general, so I have considerably more of the Black commons then I do the Red ones. I think the lesson to take from this article is to try and figure out in a booster draft what color/colors are open and try and draft in such a way that you don’t disturb anything. If your draft just fits with what the rest of the table is doing and you play the colors that you are seeing the most of, I think that you can be successful in any draft format.

Ben

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