We've all been in drafts where we see a good card swing the whole way around the table to us at seventh pick, and the temptation is always there to think "What the hell are you guys doing - this card is awesome! How can it still be in the pack!?!". We might also make a quick mental calculation that at least four of the other players on the table are idiots for allowing this card to get to you.
The truth, though, is often the exact opposite. The players on your table AREN'T idiots, and it's because they're not idiots that they left that card for you. Not because they think it's bad, but because they knew that their decks needed other cards more. The best way to show you this is to follow a booster pack around a table of good players… and it just so happens that we have a table of good players here in the Top8 of Grand Prix Bochum. These are players who have already proven their drafting skills twice today, and we'll leave it to them to justify why there was a 7th pick Myrsmith, or how Darksteel Sentinel can be picked at 9th in one booster and 3rd in another.
The pick order for the first booster was: Kostler > Juza > Sele > Woltjes > Perez > Lee > Kunzler > Mayer
After the booster had done a full lap of the table you could see clearly how each player had a different preference. Sky-Eel School was passed over by two blue players in favor of Revoke Existence and Silver Myr and there were still good cards left to come. With the last black player to see the booster taking a Snapsail Glider the Instill Infection was still there, and the Darksteel Sentinel had been passed over several times! As for Martin "I don't feel like drafting poison" Juza… Ichor Rats pick two signalled a change of plan!
|Lee)||Blunt the Assault|
At the end of the booster a quick tour of the table told me the following: Kostler was in red, Juza was all-in on Infect, Sele UW, Woltjes BR, Perez RG, Lee UW, Kunzler taking whatever blue Lee left him, and Mayer trying to make Metalcraft green.
Order of picks was reversed, with Kostler passing on to Mayer and so forth…
|Mayer)||Glint Hawk Idol|
Let's pause it there. In the first pack Kunzler had passed the Darksteel Sentinel to take Sky-Eel School and yet here he was taking the Sentinel ahead of Lumengrid Drake. The implication was obvious - Kunzler needed artifacts more than he needed yet another flyer. The reverse was true for Lee, though. He had taken the Silver Myr on the first pass, and felt more comfortable taking the Metalcraft Drake than Kunzler this time around. It was a clear example of how a card's value for a player changes as the draft develops, and why 'pick orders' often don't make much sense when applied to a real draft.
Back to the pack…
The first booster had been full of great cards, while this second one had seen a Copper Myr picked first out of the pack! But there was interesting choices here too, with Martin Juza preferring a Nihil Spellbomb over the potentially-infectious Vector Asp, while Lee will have been happy to see a Plated Seastrider circle all the way around the table. After the Lumengrid Drake the Seastrider was probably the only other card he actually wanted from the booster and could well make his deck!
Order of picks flipped pack to the original route around the table, Kostler to Juza etc.
|Juza)||Trigon of Corruption|
And look at that order of picks! Myrsmith is considered by many players to be one of the best cards in draft, and yet it had gone three-quarters of the way around the table to Lee. Lee received his gift gracefully and gratefully, with a big smile, but in fact only one player ahead of him would have wanted the Myrsmith at this stage! The only white player to see the Myrsmith so far was Yves Sele, and he had needed the Gold Myr for his deck. It's also a clue to how much Sele wanted the mana Myr that he had picked it ahead of the Perilous Myr, and on the very next pick Woltjes took the Perilous Myr ahead of an Iron Myr! Players weren't picking from a mental list of 'best cards', but they were building a deck and taking the card their deck needed.
|Juza)||Throne of Geth|
Aside from the Myrsmith the third round of packs revealed another quirk of the table. As I followed this booster around the table I had noticed that the booster to the left still had it's rare in - a Hand of the Praetors. Five picks out I made a mental wager with myself that the Hand would make it all the way around the table to Juza's Infect deck, and as the fateful booster reached the Czech pro I watched his face carefully as he flicked through it, card by card. Juza's face remained a mask of calm until suddenly I saw his eyes bulge, his mouth crease into a grin, and he wind milled a card onto his pile of picks. A 7th- pick Hand of the Praetors? Juza could be thankful that the Hand had circled the entire table to reach him… but it was always going to. From the moment that bomb rare was opened in the seat to his left it was his.
And that's the truth of any draft. When you get a good card late it doesn't mean that your opponents have been bad… it means they've been good. When you receive Hand of the Praetors it's because you passed on Myrsmith, and when you get Perilous Myr it's because the player to your right needed to accelerate to his rare cards more than he needed to block on the ground. The Top8 draft was completed, and ahead of the quarter-finals I got a look at what the players had created:
Jonas Kostler - Green/Red Metalcraft he had a slew of cheap artifacts and would hit Metalcraft very quickly. The standout card was Kuldotha Phoenix, but if he could get on the front foot his four Panic Spellbomb could make his offense hard to stop.
Martin Juza - Juza's 7th pick Hand of Praetors was actually his second Hand! He had an Infect deck that was light on two-drops but packed enough Proliferate in the form of two Contagion Clasp and Throne of Geth to mean he could poison an opponent without actually needing to get his creatures across the table very often.
Yves Sele - his Blue/White deck looked solid but uninspirational.
Geertjan Woltjes - had a fighting Black/Red deck. It was light on removal but brought plenty of aggressive creatures, anybody who stumbled against Woltjes would be in trouble.
Julien Perez - had battled it out with Woltjes for the red cards, but paired it with Green metalcraft.
Sok-Yong Lee - Lee's deck looked crazily good. A pair of Soliton and a pair of Heavy Arbalest gave him the 'machine gun' combo reliably, and if that didn't work then his Blue/White deck also had Contagion Engine and Steel Hellkite. Lee's biggest problem was that he would face Juza's poison deck in the quarter finals.
Matthias Kunzler - trapped next to Lee, Kunzler had been forced to abandon the white flyers but picked up black as he had a clear run on that color. Necrogen Scudder and Necrotic Ooze supported blue flyers, but the legacy of beginning in white was his three-color mana base for a pair of Arrests.
Manuel Mayer - did not seem happy, but had somehow wound up with a pair of Genesis Waves! He had been picking up all the green that Perez had left for him several picks earlier, and had yet another ground pounding heavy-hitting green deck.