The Butterfly Effect

Posted in Beyond the Basics on October 5, 2017

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

You head out your front door to take a walk around the block. Do you start by turning left or right?

Either way will get you back home eventually. They're both roughly equal options. But you have to make a choice. Which way do you go?

Of course, what you don't know is what is going to happen either way.

You don't know that if you turn left, you're going to bump into your next-door neighbor just as she's getting back home. She'll ask you if you want to walk around the block together.

If you accept, when she spots kids playing Little League around the nearby baseball diamond, she'll tell you about her younger brother adopted from Kenya.

If you inquire further, she'll invite you over to show you pictures of her time there.

If those interest you, nine months from now, you begin planning your own trip there. Upon your return, you'll tell countless friends about your adventures, inspiring them to do the same.

Assuming, of course, you turn left. On the other hand, you could always turn right.

If you turn right, you'll encounter a little league game at its fever pitch. A tight ninth-inning game with the aspiring young players gripped by tension.

If you choose to stop and watch, you'll get swept up in the emotion of the sport. The excitement. The camaraderie. As you see the epic conclusion of the game, you make a note to yourself if how fun it looks.

If you keep thinking about that as you complete your walk, a few weeks later you look into local leagues, investigating how you could play.

If you sign up for a local recreational league, you go on to make many friends and end up with a stable new hobby in your life.

But you don't know any of that yet. There's no way you can. It all just falls out of you making one decision after another. Forget about it. Instead, there's just one intersection right now. One simple decision.

So, which will it be: left or right?

Life is a sequence of decisions. Some of the most important choices in my life have been times when I didn't even know I was making a choice.

In these cases, each choice I made built upon the last. Each choice seemed fairly straightforward in a vacuum, but when you look back in retrospect at the ten or 20 or 45 decisions you made, you see the big picture: there really were a lot of things going on there.

Draft is a similar sequence of decisions.

Let me ask you a different question. If you did a booster draft, then we took the exact same draft table, with the exact same booster packs and the exact same seven other players, and played the draft out with someone else, would your decks be the same?

How much would be the same? Would they even be the same colors? How do the cards you pick impact the colors everyone else at the table plays?

A booster draft is a closed-circuit example of this "butterfly effect." Much like mathematician Edward Lorenz statement that a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a tornado elsewhere in the world, something similar is true of a booster draft: taking any given card could radically impact everybody at the table, what decks they play, and how they will do.

No pressure.

The big difference, however, is that unlike the butterfly effect, which is mostly random and chaotic, in draft you get to pick your cards. Everybody is making conscious decisions to impact everybody else. That butterfly is choosing to cut you out of white intentionally!

So, what am I getting at with this?

A Draft deck is more than an assortment of cards—it's a selection of cards.

And it all revolves around that one word: selection.

You don't choose each card in a vacuum. You choose them based on previous picks.

Color is the clearest example of this. For example, if you just picked the most powerful card each pack, you'd end up with a mess of a four- or five-color deck. But you (hopefully) don't. You generally hone in on a few colors during the first pack and a half and then select some and stay the course.

The deeper you lean into each of these decisions and built upon your past picks, the more cohesive your deck will be. This is absolutely fundamental to becoming the best drafter you can be.

As you draft, you should be keeping in mind all your previous picks and making your future picks around them. And while you shouldn't necessarily be married to those picks—if you open a powerful rare in another color in pack two, for example, you could consider switching—it's something that will help guide your decisions and help apply a little bit of weight.

If you think of each card as pushing you in a direction, one card you've taken applies only a tiny nudge of Draft pressure. Ten cards, on the other hand, starts to apply a forceful shove of Draft pressure.

Here's a real example using colors: if you have one green card and it's your first pick, you aren't necessarily committed to green at all, but if the next card you draft could be green, that's a good tiebreaker. If you have ten green cards, then you have a big impetus to be actively drafting green cards (and whatever your other color might be) over other options.

While color is a clear case of this kind of Draft pressure, there are all kinds of other signposts that are easy to miss but that should influence your picks.

Today, I'm going to talk about four of them. This is far from all of them, but they are four pretty common ones. Let's take a look!

TRIBAL

You might have noticed that Ixalan has some of this tribal (meaning, creature-types matter) thing going on.

When it comes to signposts, this is a huge one right now. There's not only the question of "What tribe am I?" but also the question of "How much of this tribe does my deck even need?" or even "Should I be tribal at all?"

After all, having a bunch of cards of a tribe doesn't inherently mean anything unless a card says so. A deck with 20 Merfolk doesn't matter if you have zero Merfolk reward cards.

And not all rewards are created equally. Take Duskborne Skymarcher above. This card needs another Vampire on the battlefield to function. Without it, you're not taking advantage of its effect.

Compare that with Dinosaur Stampede, which is a perfectly functional card in a variety of decks as a way to pump up your team, and it also happens to give you a bonus in Dinosaurs.

If I have the Skymarcher in my Draft pool, it's going to nudge me toward picking Vampires a lot more than Dinosaur Stampede is going to get me to pick Dinosaurs higher. The power of the Skymarcher is in its tribal ability, while with Dinosaur Stampede's upgrade it's a nice bonus, but not mandatory to get good effect out of playing the card.

A deck with the Skymarcher is going to want mostly Vampires. A deck with Dinosaur Stampede is happy to play Dinosaurs, but probably is using it as a tiebreaker at best when choosing which creatures to include.

And once again: often it's about weight of how many you have. Playing a Skymarcher in a deck with a handful of Vampires can be okay. If you have four Vampire tribal cards, suddenly you really want nothing but Vampires.

Specific Archetypes

Quite often in modern-day set designs, each color pair in Limited will have some kind of theme. Sometimes it can be light (White-Blue Fliers) but other times it can be quite loud. (Blue-Red Spells Matter.) As you start to figure out your color pair and whether you're a themed deck or not, that can radically change what order you should be taking cards in.

As an example, it's early in pack two. What's the pick: Tishana's Wayfinder or Ranging Raptors?

Well, it really matters what you've taken so far!

If you're a black-green explore deck and have a Wildgrowth Walker or Lurking Chupacabra in your pool, then the Wayfinder looks like it will start to synergize with your deck better. On the other hand, if you're red-green and have cards like Rile around, then the Ranging Raptors starts to look more appealing.

It can seem shortsighted to pick something based on its interaction with one other card in your deck—after all, you have to draw both of them in your 40-card deck to matter. However, keep in mind that every synergy-focused deck has to start somewhere. If you take the card here that works well with a previous pick, then you can keep going down that path at the next similar intersection, and ultimately that can lead you to a very strong deck in which all the pieces harmonize with one another.

Mana Symbols

We talked about color, but how about mana symbols?

If a card has a heavy mana commitment, especially early in the game, then you're going to start looking to skew your mana base slightly toward it. But if multiple different colors are asking to be hit in the exact right order, you're going to run into trouble.

For example, I would generally try to avoid playing Hyena Pack and Ancient Crab in the same deck. (Besides just the fact that they aren't super powerful cards.) Needing to have two blue mana on turn three and two red mana by turn four is just a recipe for disappointment. To curve out, you need to draw exactly two Islands and two Mountains.

If I'm set on playing my two Hyena Packs, then I'd definitely pass on the Ancient Crab and take some other card from that pack, if possible.

Keep this in mind as you're drafting Ixalan, especially where Wily Goblin is concerned. He promises you mana fixing, but sometimes at the cost of skewing your mana to play him, which can make things worse off. A wily Goblin, indeed!

Mechanical Callouts

Similar to tribes, some mechanics reward you for doing a lot of one thing. Improvise in Aether Revolt worked this way, for example.

In these cases, you are loudly told for your subsequent picks to be cards that support these mechanics. The more artifacts you have around, the better improvise can be.

And, like tribal, the amount can vary based on strength of the card and how much of its power is in you having the piece it's looking for. Bastion Inventor can be strong because of your ability to play it quickly, so you really want to have a density of cheap artifacts if you're going to fill your deck with cards like that.

Battle at the Bridge, on the other hand, is a card I'd happily play in most Draft decks regardless of whether I even had any artifacts at all! The amount any card or mechanic is asking for can highly vary. And note that not all mechanics work like this. You don't inherently get any extra bonuses for putting a bunch of aftermath cards in your deck, for example. (But you can if you build around it and have ways to get them from your library into your graveyard!)

Finding Your Hook

If you take one thing away from this article, it should be this: the context of what you've drafted matters.

As you're drafting, your first pick will sometimes be roughly equal. So you take one. And then every other pick, in some way, has the potential to be slightly influenced by that first pick. Make the best decision for each of them, given what you know about the previous ones.

Sometimes that decision may even be abandoning what you did in the past—but as long as you're making these choices intentionally, that's what counts.

I hope you enjoyed this look at drafting! If you have any thoughts or questions, I'd love to hear from you. To reach me, you can always send me a tweet, ask me a question on my Tumblr, or email me (in English, please) at BeyondBasicsMagic@gmail.com.

May your forays into Ixalan go well! Have fun drafting!

Gavin
@GavinVerhey
GavInsight

Latest Beyond the Basics Articles

BEYOND THE BASICS

How Low Can You Go? by, Gavin Verhey

How often should you be playing with Carnage Tyrant? The mighty six-mana 7/6 has been the scourge of many an opponent. Control players gnash their teeth as they stare down a huge Dinos...

Learn More

BEYOND THE BASICS

Blocking a Bluff by, Gavin Verhey

You're in the middle of a game of Ixalan Limited against Merida. Some creatures have traded, things have gone back and forth, and you find yourself here. You're each at 10 life. You have...

Learn More

Articles

Articles

Beyond the Basics Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All

We use cookies on this site to enhance your user experience. By clicking any link on this page or by clicking Yes, you are giving your consent for us to set cookies. (Learn more about cookies)

No, I want to find out more