Don't Hate Draft!

Posted in Beyond the Basics on July 28, 2016

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.

A little while back, I wrote a column about when to switch colors in a draft. The situation posed was with Archangel Avacyn and what might happen if you opened her up in various situations. For example, if you open her pack three and you have no chance of playing her, what do you do?

This caused much chatter—and something came up that really surprised me. A number of people said they would "hate draft" Avacyn, regardless of if they were playing her.

So today, let's talk about hate drafting.

I'm going to make my stance very clear: don't hate draft.

Hate drafting, if you're not familiar with the term, is picking a card in Booster Draft that you don't intend on playing solely to make sure someone else's deck doesn't have it. For example, if I'm firmly drafting White-Black Warriors in Khans of Tarkir and I open up Sidisi, Brood Tyrant in the third pack and take it, that's a hate draft.

Now, like any "rule" in Magic, there are exceptions; I'll get to those toward the end of the article. But in general, you will be far more successful not hate drafting.

And just to make a note before moving on: this excludes taking a card because you want it for your collection. My goal is to give you advice that will help you win more, and if you're playing in a friendly draft and just want to take Avacyn because then you'll have your fourth one, that's totally cool. But if you're playing in something like a Grand Prix, Pro Tour, Limited Top 8, or otherwise, making that pick will generally hamper your ability to win the draft.

Additionally, this also all presumes a normal eight-player, individual-play draft pod, because that's how the vast majority of drafts are played.

With that all said, let's get into it!

Hating on Hate

I'm just going to go out on a limb and say this: as Magic players, we prefer winning games of Magic to losing games of Magic.

We certainly don't want to lose. That's bad enough. And we definitely don't want to lose to a crazy powerful mythic rare like Archangel Avacyn.

So, like the clever drafting mafiosos we are, why not just put out a hit on it and make sure it never reaches its destination? Why not take it out of the draft?

And that's where the instinct to hate draft comes from.

But let's back up for a second. Let's run through what it takes for a hate draft of any individual card to positively impact your draft. It requires several things happening:

  1. The card that you would be hate drafting needs to get to someone who can play it.

There are plenty of reasons for someone to take it after you: Maybe they picked up a white card or two and think they could end up playing it, but ultimately can't. Maybe someone who is currently in white takes it, but ends up bailing. Maybe someone who hasn't read this article decides to hate draft it. Any number of reasons could prevent the card from being played.

  1. You have to play against that person.

There's far from a guarantee you'll end up playing against whoever ends up with the card. (And even less likely if you're playing in an event where Round 1 is paired four seats away from you.) If you plan on winning the three matches in your eight-person draft pod (which, of course, you do!), then you'll face fewer than half of the other players in the draft.

Even if the card is incredibly strong, that doesn't mean they're necessarily favored to win their match. I mean, how many times have you drafted an awesome rare and still lost? It happens frequently. One Archangel Avacyn doesn't entirely salvage a weak Draft deck. Plus, all kinds of things can happen—they can be short on lands, their opponent can have the perfect answer, and so on.

  1. They have to draw that card, and cast that card against you, and have it be better than what they would have played instead, and it has to help them win the game.

Okay. So you pass the card to someone who ends up playing it, and then you do get paired against them. Next, they actually have to draw it! It doesn't matter if the card they have is as absurd as Umezawa's Jitte—if they don't draw it, or they draw it and can't cast it, or they draw it at a time when it's ineffectual, then it doesn't end up mattering.

Now, compare that list to what it takes to make a card that's good in your deck.

To make a card you pick for your deck useful, you have to 1) play it in your final deck, and 2) draw it in any of your games and have it work toward winning you the match. There's a chance it will be relevant in every game you play, as opposed to only against certain people.

Hatred of Signals

But hate drafting can cause a problem more than just taking a card out of your deck: it can mess up your color signals!

Consider this situation. You're drafting Eldritch Moon-Eldritch Moon-Shadows over Innistrad. In pack two, you're firmly entrenched in blue-black. Third pick, you have the choice between Murder—a solid card for your deck—and Mirrorwing Dragon, a powerful red mythic rare you'd be hate drafting.

If you choose to take the Mirrorwing Dragon, that pushes the Murder to fourth pick. Now, the player to the right, if they perhaps took a couple black cards or think more might be coming their way, might pick it up. If this Murder nudges the person on your right toward black, that could be disastrous for pack three, as they might scoop up all the black cards you want!

The opposite is true with passing the Dragon. Perhaps it cements someone to your right further away from your colors. Maybe the neighbor to your right is waffling on their colors a bit, and they pick up the Dragon, noticing that red must be pretty open for it to get that far. Passing it here can actively be good for your draft!

This doesn't just apply to powerful rares, either. Imagine you're a few picks down the road. You're still firmly blue-black, and you get passed this pack with these seven cards left in it.

There's nothing really here for this deck. The only on-color card is Turn Aside, which is likely to be a sideboard option at best.

On the other hand, there are a couple juicy red cards still left over! Deranged Whelp and Collective Defiance are both great cards. So you just pick one and take it out of the draft, right?

Actually, a pretty good argument can be made for passing them along further. This is a little more situation dependent, but generally, you'd rather make sure you cement the people to your right in red. Imagine they took that Dragon earlier, and are looking for extra red handholds to latch onto. On rare occasions, this could even get to two nearby players who are in red, keeping them in a color that isn't yours. I'd rather have the sideboard card here.

Appropriate Hatred

Up until this point, I've mostly talked about why you shouldn't hate draft. However, as I mentioned before, there are some exceptions.

First and foremost, as soon as the draft is "functionally done" for you, it's safe to hate draft. This most often comes up in pack three, because the mini game of signaling is over and your deck is close to complete.

For example, if you take the seven-card pack from the last section and put that in the third pack of the draft rather than the second (I know Eldritch Moon isn't going to be your third pack, but roll with it for a moment), I would take that Collective Defiance without a second thought. None of those cards are going to make your deck, so the slight advantage of taking a card out of a potential opponent's deck outweighs doing something completely irrelevant.

Similarly, if you're keeping track of what your current deck looks like and nothing from the current pack is going to make your deck or be a reasonable sideboard option, your deck is functionally done and it's safe to hate draft away.

Secondly, you can spend picks late in the draft to hate on wacky fringe archetypes that require specific cards.

For example, imagine you're drafting original Innistrad. Toward the end of pack two, you see a bunch of cards you're not going to use—including a late Runic Repetition, which is an important component to the Spider Spawning combo deck that generally isn't played otherwise. You know you passed cards for Spider Spawning earlier.

If somebody wants Runic Repetition for their deck, they're likely to be all in on that strategy anyway and it's just a matter of if they get the pieces or not. Taking this out of the draft can be the difference between their deck humming perfectly and being unable to win a game. At that point, it's worth giving up a marginal sideboard card or similar to pick it up.

Third, in other Draft formats it can be quite right to hate draft. In a three-on-three Team Draft, for example, three-fifths of the other players at your table are going to be your opponents, and it's guaranteed your teammates are going to face them multiple times. Hate drafting in three-on-three drafts is correct far, far more often than in a traditional eight-person pod.

Finally, it's important to mention that this entire article is specifically about hate drafts. If you're taking a card because it's speculative and you think there's actually a chance you might end up in that color, that's a different story. For example, you could take a red removal spell if you're green-white on the chance you pick up some mana fixing and are able to splash it, or if your draft is going poorly maybe you take it and see if the red keeps flowing so maybe you can switch into red.

Love Drafting

Like every general rule, there are plenty of corner-case exceptions. But hopefully this gives you a good sense of hate drafting—and why you generally shouldn't do it!

Thoughts? Questions? Have different feelings? Definitely send them my way!

You can always find me on Twitter, on Tumblr, or cruising around the Magic subreddit. If you're more into electronic mail, you can also contact me at BeyondBasicsMagic@gmail.com.

Additionally, if you have a strategy question you'd like discussed in more depth, whether it's a deck-building decision, a specific game state, a tournament preparation question, or otherwise, send it my way! I'm compiling all of them to answer in an upcoming mailbag column.

Have a great week, enjoy Eldritch Moon, and talk with you again soon!

Gavin
@GavinVerhey
GavInsight

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