Analyzing a Rochester Draft: A Primer for the Newcomer

Posted in Event Coverage

By Wizards of the Coast

by Anthony Alongi

Rochester Draft is considered by many to be the most skill-based Limited format in Magic. Observing a draft can be a tricky business for a newer player; in a tournament picks are timed and as a result drafters must become adept at picking rapidly. If you're not paying attention, you can often miss a key play - and a good or bad "play" in a draft is at least as important as a good or bad play in a given game.

If you're watching a Rochester Draft (and you can use the attached graphic to pretend you are doing just that), there are three things you have to remember:

  1. Players are sending each other signals. That means the really cool rare that you can't believe made it past two people may, in fact, be going exactly where everyone wants it to.
  2. Invasion really wants players to play three colors, but most Pros are used to playing two. As a result, you'll see a mess in many drafts as players compete for one or even two colors at a time.
  3. Most picks after the seventh or eighth pick don't mean very much, beyond a reinforcement of those signals. In the attached graphic, you will find most of the key picks in the top line of each pack.

Take a look at our spotlight draft. This is a sketch of the entire Rochester Draft conducted by Table 2 before Round 4 on Day 1. This table had all players who had gone undefeated in the first three games; many of these players are among the best-known Pros out there.

Let's see how you might read a chart like this and learn something. First of all, note that first picks for each pick are highlighted. That makes it easier for you to see what the "most valuable card" was in each pack. Remember that what is considered most valuable depends on the player picking. For example:

First pack, first pick. Allan Christensen, who won't see another pick for this entire 15-card pack (first seat is generally considered the worst seat in Rochester), chooses a Duskwalker, letting a Charging Troll and Serpentine Kavu go. He does this because there's no sense trying to compete with green (there's also a Nomadic Elf and Armadillo Cloak in the pack), and the only other decent black cards in the pack are Nightscape Apprentice and Hypnotic Cloud. (Svend Geertsen, who with the eighth and ninth picks serves as the "wheel" this pack, picks up both.)

Fast forward 14 packs. Allan has another high (second) pick, and once again is looking at a Duskwalker and Serpentine Kavu on the same table. By now, Allan has seen a couple of other players dig deeply into black, and he himself is only splashing it in a red-green dominated deck. Duskwalker wouldn't be a horrible idea, but Serpentine Kavu makes more sense at this point. The Duskwalker, in fact, stays on the table three more picks until a player who is far more heavily into black (David Humpherys) picks it up.

The second theme you might pick up is how players not only send signals, but read them. Case in point: Satoshi Nakamura, who started the draft with Galina's Knight, Repulse, and Faerie Squadron, had at least two excellent opportunities for a Recoil (fourth pack and sixteenth pack). He passed on them, choosing Probe and Benalish Lancer respectively. Why?

By the fourth pack, David Humpherys, two doors down from Satoshi, was sending a strong black-blue signal. (He already had one Recoil and a Vodalian Zombie). In addition, two drafters to Satoshi's other side, Tuomo Niemenen was picking up his own Recoil and Vodalian Zombie by pack ten. Seeing those two in black, and at least three others (Allan Christensen, Peter Leiher, and Svend Geertsen) either dabbling or heavily into it, Satoshi decided that he had a better chance reinforcing his ties to white. Probe works okay in a blue-white deck without kicker; Benalish Lancer is certainly a quality card. So those picks make sense . . . given the context of the table.

There's at least one other thing you can learn by looking at a table like this one: what packs were completely insane, reinforcing an entire side of the table with terrific cards. Check out packs 10, 11, and 12. Just as the direction of the draft changed, Scott Johns, David Humpherys, Peter Leiher, and Satoshi Nakamura each got enormous boosts from packs that were easily at least two deep HIGH #1 picks. Breath of Darigaaz, Alloy Golem, and Thornscape Apprentice in pack 10; Rout, Breath of Darigaaz (again), Stormscape Apprentice, and Repulse in pack 11; and Darigaaz himself (after breathing so much, he ought to make a personal appearance!) along with Goham Djinn in pack 12. David Humpherys and Peter Leiher had very strong decks only part way into the second set of packs. (By chance, they met each other in round 4 and Humpherys won.)

A chart like this can be difficult to analyze at first; but with practice and greater knowledge of how Rochester Drafts operate, you can get to the point where a glance at the chart can give you an excellent sense of what happened at the table. Neutral Ground has a fancy version of this style chart; they even color code the cards for easy analysis and boldface those that were actually played. Sideboard is still experimenting with its own formats; please write to us (and by "us," I mean "Omeed") and let us know what you think!

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