Draft Leagues Are Great

The new Draft League format to be offered on Magic Online marries the best of Draft with the best of Leagues. The whole point of Leagues is to play on-demand, whether you’re ready for 1 match or 3 matches. Traditional draft is great, but the timing issues are always there. As someone who has found Constructed Leagues helpful, I can’t wait to draft my first deck in a Draft League knowing I don’t have to play it all out right away.

Is every single aspect of normal Booster Draft replicated in the League format? Absolutely not. My colleague Sam Pardee explains many of the concerns in his article. But the thing about draft many people aren’t realizing is that whether normal 8-player Draft or League Draft, the drafting of a deck is mostly a cooperative exercise. This is counter-intuitive in a normal Draft and totally intuitive in a League Draft, and it is that difference that is causing the negative reaction—not a meaningful, competitive difference.

The Power Level of Your Draft

“In some drafts, the booster packs are weak. Playing against a deck from a draft with stronger packs is unfair, or feels more like Sealed than Draft.” Once again people have a perception that doesn’t line up with reality. The quality of the boosters you see (and the distribution of that quality among the colors) is a source for variance for any draft. It is true that so called “weak packs” make all the decks at the table weaker and so the variance within a pod is lower than the variance across pods, but you can’t draw any conclusions based on the existence of the effect without discussing the size of the effect.

The size of this effect is small. Even in a normal draft, one side of the table can, and often does, open packs that have stronger early picks, making the decks on that side of the table stronger. When you play against the person across the table from you, they saw the same packs you did, but the timing was so different that their lucky breaks are not that likely to mean lucky breaks for you when you see the pack. And yet, nobody calls it “Sealed Deck” when seat 1 plays against seat 5. The variance in pack quality within pods is one thing keeping the difference between normal and League Draft small.

Another thing shrinking the size of this effect is that the power level of packs isn’t actually correlated—it’s independent, from pack to pack. The terminology causes confusion here. You say “my draft was weak” and it makes it seem like there are binary categories of weak drafts and strong drafts. In fact, with so many boosters opened each draft, the total average quality is unlikely to differ by that much.

Tracking Tricks and Hate Drafting

It is true that remembering you passed a sweeper or which combat tricks you passed is a skill that won’t help you in League Draft. It is also true that if your deck is weak to certain cards, you cannot hate-draft them to keep them away from your opponents. Again, you know the effect exists—what is the size of the effect?

For the best drafter in the world, these advantages come up relatively frequently but rarely play a large role. For the average drafter, trying to focus on these things might not even produce a noticeable benefit given that it takes effort and produces a small benefit, some of the time.

The reason hate drafting is so overrated in normal draft is that the odds the card you hated end up in an opponent’s deck, you play against that opponent, they draw the card, and the card is better than the replacement card they would have otherwise played, are always relatively low when compared to the advantages you get when selecting a card proactively, where you can control whether you use it and you know it is in a stack of cards in every match you will play. Players who think hate drafting is a massively important aspect of normal draft will carry that misunderstanding into this debate, but I believe they are wrong on both fronts.

Setting Up a Neighbor with a Perfect Deck Could Easily Cost You the 3-0 in Normal Draft, But Doesn’t Matter in League Draft

Yet another effect that is overrated in normal Draft and now tripping people up as they analyze League Drafts! “The perfect deck” full of synergies, 23 rock-solid playable spells, great mana—this deck doesn’t 3-0 nearly as often as people think it does. Mana problems are easy to get, tough opponents show up with great decks of their own, and bombs take over games. This is Limited Magic—stuff happens.

If, for every Pro Tour or Grand Prix Day 2 Draft I do for the rest of my life, I could guarantee that I had the 2nd best deck at the table and the player to my left had the best deck at the table, I would lock that in immediately, without hesitating.

When I sit down to draft, I’m trying to get to that place (and there is no need in real life to rule out getting the best deck yourself) every time I draft. I’m not trying to make my neighbors’ decks better, per se, but cooperation is a rising tide that lifts all boats in booster draft. The quality of my deck will naturally correlate with the quality of my neighbors’ decks by virtue of the fact that fighting over colors and strategies is destructive while not fighting is productive. To lose sight of that fighting-versus-cooperating truism in order to worry about whether I finish 1st or 2nd in the best deck race is a mistake. There is variance in the gameplay to make up the gaps, give you the strong decks, let you crush the rest of the table, and I’ll take my chances in the finals if that’s how it shakes out.

In League Drafts, the incentives to cooperate and not fight are more clear and slightly more striking, but they are the same incentives at the top level. That is what will make these Drafts feel very similar to normal Drafts.

Draft Leagues are a welcome addition to the set of choices available online. Don’t listen to anyone trying to tell you they won’t be good draft practice or won’t be fun. Chances are, that person is overstating the effect of a small difference or two.

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