How and When to Pivot in Draft

Each draft environment demands a new approach. I wanted to bring you some more information on MM15 Limited, but because I realize the set is very temporary, I plan to use the set as more of a case study today that you can use in future draft formats to your benefit.

By pivoting, I simply mean adjusting your draft strategy based on what you’ve drafted and what you’re being passed in pack 1. There’s a balancing point between staying on the path of the cards you’ve drafted and venturing into new colors and archetypes for potential payoff later in the draft. In this set, pivoting is particularly important because the open deck for your seat will be extra powerful due to the highly linear strategies in each color pair. If you merely end up with a pile of cards in the color of your first pick and aren’t in the right colors for your draft seat, you’ll have a particularly poor deck.

Let’s dive into a draft example and then look at pivoting from a wider lens:

You start the draft with a Mirran Crusader out of an otherwise unexciting pack.

You know that the card works best in the RW double strike deck, but it will still be quite good in any deck able to cast it on turn 3 reliably.

For pick 2 your options are Wrecking Ball, Burst Lightning, and Glint Hawk Idol.

Wrecking Ball is clearly the most powerful card, but taking it here is just a hedge. You’ll get to play either Mirran Crusader or Wrecking Ball, both of which are quite powerful, but if possible you’d rather be able to play both Mirran Crusader and your second pick. I’d pass on the Wrecking Ball here.

Burst Lightning is the more powerful option among the remaining two cards, but Glint Hawk Idol is a “white” card to match your first pick. In this case you want to decide if the power upgrade on a new second color is worth the risk of moving into another color. This sounds strange at first, because virtually every Limited deck is at least 2 colors, so calling this a risk doesn’t make much sense, but there will be a very strong chance you end up moving off either the Burst Lightning or the Mirran Crusader for a different 2nd color as the draft progresses, though there is of course the chance that RW ends up open for you and you now have 2 great picks. In this case, the power of Burst Lightning is high enough that I’d select it over the Glint Hawk Idol.

Pick 3 presents you with some more options to go with the Mirran Crusader and Burst Lightning: Electrolyze, Blood Ogre, or Nest Invader.

Ugh. None of these options match well with your first two cards outside of the Blood Ogre, but it is quite a bit weaker than both Electrolyze or Nest Invader. Here’s where you get to pivot. You should take either Electrolyze or Nest Invader because of their higher power level, which means you are sacrificing the power level of your current draft deck for future payoff and increased flexibility in the draft. Remember that your deck isn’t your first few picks. It’s the final product after 45 picks, and it’s okay that you are likely to give up playing either the Burst Lightning or Mirran Crusader by taking one of these cards because you are hoping to gain more overall power due to a stronger overall deck with more cohesion. Nest Invader can pair with either card while Electrolyze can only go with the Burst Lightning. Nest Invader is also quite good in both the GR domain archetypes and GW tokens. For this reason I’d select the Nest Invader over Electrolyze because it’s more flexible without sacrificing too much power. However, if the Nest Invader were a narrower green card like Scion of the Wild I would take Electrolyze. Scion is good in GW but quite bad in RG and you wouldn’t gain flexibility at the cost of power.

Your pick-4 options to go with your Mirran Crusader, Burst Lightning, and Nest Invader are Darksteel Axe, Scatter the Seeds, and Plaxcaster Frogling.

Now you can start to see that there haven’t been any good white cards passed to you. Your Mirran Crusader is looking less and less likely to make your deck, though perhaps the first few packs were very weak on white cards overall. You can keep this in mind moving forward. Darksteel Axe is a colorless option, but only really works well with Mirran Crusader in RW. In your other two potential color combinations, RG and GW, the card ranges from bad to slightly above average and should not be in consideration here.

Scatter the Seeds is quite good in GW and okay in RG, and so is very close to Plaxcaster Frogling here in my eyes. Plaxcaster could be a sign that UG proliferate is open, and is a key card in that deck, so picking it up here would be very nice, but you’re giving up a very solid playable in Scatter the Seeds to take the Frogling. If UG is open and you take Scatter then you can still play Scatter in that deck. However, the Frogling is more powerful and I’d select it here and pivot once more because you can potentially move into UG if it opens up and gain a lot of synergy power out of a Thrummingbird later, whereas Scatter will only be great if GW ends up being open, which once again seems unlikely due to lack of white cards in packs thus far.

Pick 5 presents a Sunlance vs. another Plaxcaster Frogling.


You can re-pivot back into white by taking Sunlance, but you took on risk by taking the previous Plaxcaster Frogling and the second should make you think the deck is open. Sunlance is also a great white card, but there could still be one or two white drafters above you who just took more powerful white cards—perhaps a Battlegrace Angel and Arrest were also in this pack. Here you should take the Plaxcaster Frogling and try to move into UG proliferate. I’d be pretty excited at this point. You will likely have to give up playing Mirran Crusader and Burst Lightning (though you could play it on a splash) but are likely to end up with a very good UG deck.

Pivoting lets you stay flexible and rewards you with a more powerful deck overall at the end of the draft. Imagine if you second-picked Glint Hawk Idol to go with your Mirran Crusader, then took Blood Ogre because RW is the best home for the Mirran Crusader. Pack 4 would “reward” you with a Darksteel Axe, and pick 5 you’d even have a Sunlance! At this point you would be excited to be in RW, when in reality UG is probably a better place to end up. You’d likely see very few white cards as the pack progresses and have to take lower quality cards to round out the deck. Pack 3 will also likely be quite poor as a result, but without slowing down and looking at each pick, you’ll wonder what went wrong with your okay RW deck when you could have had a much more powerful deck by sacrificing early draft pick power to gain overall deck power at the end.

This concept is very pushed in MM15 because being in the open archetype tends to be more powerful than any one or two very powerful but unsupported rares. In formats with less cohesion and more bombs, you’re more incentivized to make your first pick work. In DTK the rares tend to matter much more than the commons and that means you still want to find the open deck for your seat, but you should also be trying to play your bomb rare more often than in MM15 draft.

In sets with fewer playables, pivoting is also worse because the rewards for the open deck dry up so quickly in packs. Avacyn Restored was a perfect example of this. Most decks in that format had about 7-10 good cards and then a ton of filler. You wouldn’t want to give up 2-4 cards pivoting to get slightly better filler cards and it was more correct to play your first picks. Over time WotC has created sets with more playables in them which incentivizes pivoting more. Next time you think about just drafting around your first pick, consider more flexible options. You’ll have better decks on average and be rewarded with great cards in later packs your neighbors can’t play (since you specifically moved out of their way).

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