Two weeks ago, I started showing some offbeat Wacky Drafts I've played. Hidden in all the wackiness, I found some examples of what Magic does right and wrong when Magic cards interact from two different blocks years apart. In particular, the Reject Rare Draft demonstrated the pitfalls of parasitism. The Onslaught-Legions-Coldsnap draft showed how potentially parasitic mechanics like "creature type matters" can avoid those pitfalls.
This week I'll show a truly crazy draft I did with twenty-four packs from twenty-four different sets, and talk about what it teaches. Then I'll take you through an even crazier draft I did that contained cards from over 40 sets, from Black Lotus and all the Moxes through Survival of the Fittest through Liliana Vess, and talk about what that one teaches.
Night of the Twenty-Four-Pack Wacky Draft
One dark and stormy night, we threw a party for Wizards Digital Games developer and former Building on a Budget columnist Nate Heiss. Nate decreed an exceptionally wacky draft, so we collected twenty-four packs from twenty-four different sets. But of course we couldn't just draft the cards—first we had to draft the packs. What three packs would you have in front of you as the main draft began? Whatever three you drafted in the preliminary pack draft.
Nate went first, and faced this choice of first pick packs. Which would you pick from this list?
Seventh Edition, Eighth Edition, Ninth Edition, Tenth Edition, Mercadian Masques, Nemesis, Prophecy, Onslaught, Legions, Scourge, Mirrodin, Darksteel, Fifth Dawn, Champions, Betrayers, and Saviors of Kamigawa, Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension, Coldsnap, Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, Unhinged, Portal Second Age
Nate chose Ravnica: City of Guilds. Mercadian Masques was the first set on which I qualified for the Pro Tour, and I've always had a soft spot for it, so I picked up Masques first, even though I probably could have tabled it around and picked the pack up with my second or third pick.
While some happily scoffed at Mercadian Masques, I happily opened a first pick Waterfront Bouncer. If you have never had this guy before, I assure you: especially for a common, he's pretty insane! Here's what I ended up building:
The deck definitely exemplified blue-black across the ages: solid removal, tons of bounce spells, evasion, card advantage, all on a pretty good curve. I was happy with how it turned out.
You might think a deck from this Wacky Draft format couldn't have any synergies—just a bunch of good cards doing their own thing. After all, the deck is made from tons of widely varying sets eight years apart. Mirrodin is full of artifact synergies, but many sets have hardly any artifacts at all. Kamigawa's spirit-matters mechanics would be hard-pressed to find friends. And Masques' Rebels and Mercenaries would not find many buddies to search up.
But if you look closer, you'll see that there are actually a lot of subtle synergies from sets years apart. This is because Magic has tons of built-in open-ended synergy pieces just looking for a partner. For example, the deck has seven bounce spells:
And these bounce spells have a lot of synergy with the other cards I drafted:
- Shaper Parasite + bounce = Stack combat damage again & kill your other guy again.
- Riptide Survivor + bounce = Stack combat damage again & draw cards again.
- Highway Robber + bounce = Stack combat damage again & drain you for 2 again.
- Double Header + bounce = Stack combat damage again & bounce your guy again.
- Chittering Rats + bounce my guy = Stack combat damage again & Fatigue you again.
- Chittering Rats + bounce your guy = Fatigue you even though your hand was empty.
- End of turn bounce + main phase bounce + Persecute = You discard a ton.
- Survivor of the Unseen + bounce = Reset cumulative upkeep to zero.
- Temporal Eddy + Lurking Informant = Goodbye forever.
- Chittering Rats + Lurking Informant = Goodbye forever.
- He Who Hungers + bounce = Goodbye forever.
In particular, my old Mercadian Masques experience popped up when I picked up Tenth Edition's Highway Robber to put the Waterfront Bouncer + Highway Robber band back together, reconstituting a janky old Masques combo to chump-block with Highway Robber then bounce it every turn to drain the last few points of life.
Bounce is incredibly versatile in general, and it creates synergies with a million different things. When playing sets together from years apart, bounce serves as a "universal interface," in that it's half of the combo for a million different combos. Whatever Magic set you pick up, it will have a million awesome things to combine with your bounce spells.
Magic designers and developers are constantly on the lookout for open-ended effects like this that can serve as universal interfaces. Sometimes they can appear on multiple commons in a set, as bounce does. Sometimes they appear less frequently: Astral Slide and Momentary Blink are good examples in that they just do soooo many different things with so many different cards in every set. And sometimes they're specific cards: Spellweaver Helix and Sunforger are very open-ended, in that they interact with tons of different cards in every Magic set in different ways.
To use my wacky draft as an example, I have Crypt Sliver and He Who Hungers mostly because they're tribal cards that work pretty well even without any other members of their tribe on the board. Did I have any other Slivers or Spirits in my deck to create tribal-synergy combos with Crypt Sliver or He Who Hungers? No. But I did have Mistform Seaswift as a universal interface for tribal mechanics that could act as a Sliver or a Spirit whenever needed. And did I spring the trap on opponents who didn't see my Mistform Seaswift + Crypt Sliver combo and eat their fliers with a regenerating Seaswift? Sure did.
In many ways these universal interfaces, from bounce to Mistforms, are the exact opposite of the parasitism that can be so frustrating when combining cards from years apart. Glacial Crevasses and Pious Kitsune are frustrating because they don't work well except with one specific card in Magic. Regress and Mistform Seaswift are a lot of fun partially because they work very well with so many different cards in Magic.
Best moment of the draft: My opponent taps out for Greater Morphling, which will untap and deal a lethal 18 damage to me in one turn. (I mean, who makes these cards?!?) Having no cards and nothing but 2/2s in play, I draw and send in the team. He blocks, and I reveal the randomly top-decked Dakmor Plague to finish off Greater Morphling and win the game. Yeah Portal Second Age!
Day of the Invitational Cube Draft
Paul Sottosanti and Aaron Forsythe teamed up to create an awesome Draft Cube for this past year's Magic Invitational. Drawing on the vast collection of a trusted friend, the Cube contained one each of Magic's most famous power cards, including Black Lotus, the Moxes, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Mana Crypt, etc., the best control / combo cards of all time, including Opposition and Yawgmoth's Will, and the best aggressive cards of all time, including Kird Ape, Mogg Fanatic, Isamaru, Hound of Konda and Fireblast.
To get it ready for the Invitational, it was R&D's sworn duty to take the Cube out for a few draft test runs, then tweak it as necessary. As the draft proceeded, I focused on white-blue weenies, with a low curve, eight two-drops including five powerful white weenies, lots of evasion, tapping down opposing mana with Rishadan Port & Tangle Wire, and efficient Force Spike effects. If aggro-control "Fish" decks are good against Yawgmoth's Wills in vintage, why not here? Black Vise, Rishadan Port, Tangle Wire, Old Man of the Sea, Parallax Wave, and Portal's Sea Drake were all extremely powerful in the deck, and Library of Alexandria was a nice "Oops, turn 1 Library, I guess I win" card to have in the deck as well.
The craziest game came versus wacky master Mark Gottlieb. With all the craziness, I might make a math error somewhere, but this is the core of the story: His first turn was Forest, Skullclamp. Not too shabby. Fortunately, I could almost keep up with my third-turn Library of Alexandria. Yup, that's the format.
By turn six, Mark had Garruk Wildspeaker, Skullclamp, and Grinning Ignus. He tapped two mountains and used Garruk to untap them and tap them again for four red mana total. He returned Grinning Ignus to his hand and played it again, four times in a row. Then he played Empty the Warrens for ten Goblin tokens and started using his Forests to equip each of them with Skullclamp, drawing two cards for every mana he spent!
The good news for my side was that my evasive white weenies had almost finished Mark off. Mark had made ten extra creatures and drawn eight extra cards this turn, but he was quickly running out of mana, and all the cards in the world wouldn't do him any good if he didn't have any mana left to cast them. After Mark clamped the final time and had only one red mana left. Despite a hand of 11 cards, one red mana wasn't going to help Mark survive my vast army. Except that Gottlieb had finally found the one card he had been frantically digging for:
One red mana plus tons of extra cards meant all of my guys dead at once plus 6 damage to my face! That Gottlieb sure knows how to Wacky Draft.
I had just one more backup plan: Sea Drake. Gottlieb could not nuke this sick flier, and it did him in.
In the next game vs. Gottlieb, Mark drew first and played turn-two Rampant Growth. I gleefully responded by playing Aven Mindcensor. Mark dutifully searched the top 4 cards of his library... and found no lands! Onlookers groaned and shouted. Mark topdecked a land on his next turn and played Kodama's Reach, hoping to get revenge on the Mindcensor by finding two basic lands in the top four cards....and again finding zero! The groans turned to howls and cheers. Several people had questioned whether Aven Mindcensor belonged in the Cube alongside Leonin Skyhunter, but moments like this really show off his swingy excitement value.
So what lessons can we pull from the Cube Draft about how cards play together from years apart? Here it is: When semi-parasitic mechanics come back in later blocks, it actually reduces how parasitic they are because they now have some buddies in other blocks to play with.
My draft deck had the shadow creatures Soltari Champion and Looter il-Kor. When shadow creatures existed only in Tempest block, they were a little bit parasitic in that they could only ever block or become blocked by other creatures with shadow, a subset of creatures in Tempest block. But when Time Spiral block brought back shadow, in formats like Cube Draft or casual kitchen table Magic that combine many years of sets all together, shadow was actually less parasitic than it was in its Tempest days. My Soltari Champion and Looter il-Kor in my Cube Draft could each interact well with an enemy Soltari Monk by blocking and killing it, even though Soltari Champion comes from Stronghold and Looter il-Kor comes from Time Spiral a decade later.
Likewise, Slivers were a parasitic mechanic when they emerged in Tempest. Unlike the long histories of Elves and Zombies, no other creatures in Magic were Slivers, so Winged Sliver only worked with a very small subset of cards. But then Legions brought slivers back years later. The Legions Slivers were less parasitic than their Tempest cousins had been, simply because when the Legions Slivers came out, they could interact well with all their Legions Sliver sisters, plus their old Tempest block cousins. And when Time Spiral block brought Slivers back again, they were even less parasitic than before in casual "play all sets" formats, because the Time Spiral block slivers could interact with all the Time Spiral block slivers, plus the Legions slivers, plus the Tempest block slivers. Plus Onslaught blocks's Mistforms. Plus Lorwyn block's changelings.
Morphs showed this phenomenon in both the twenty-four-pack draft and the Cube Draft. When Onslaught had just come out, the number of morphs that a face-down card could possibly be was fairly limited. But as the Onslaught block continued more and more morphs, then Time Spiral block added even more morphs, the number of possible identities for any face-down creature gets larger and larger and larger. So a semi-parasitic mechanic like Slivers or morph actually gets more layered, more deep, and less parasitic every time it comes back.
Planting a Seed
Last week I talked about why Onslaught block was wise to include many tribes with long histories in Magic. The main reason is that tribal mechanics with completely new tribes (like Moonfolk) are parasitic, meaning they only work well with cards in their own block. Meanwhile, tribal mechanics with tribes that span across all of Magic (like Wizard) are non-parasitic, because they can play well with cards from a huge variety of Magic sets. But if naming tribes with long histories is better, than why name new tribes like Kithkin or Treefolk at all? Why not always stick to existing creature types?
The main answer is that if we always stuck with existing recurring creature types, we could never start any new recurring creature types. If we always stuck to existing creature types to avoid any parasitic cards, we could never have made Slivers. But when we went out on a limb in Tempest and made a parasitic mechanic by making Slivers, we laid the groundwork for a tribe that would eventually become one of the most beloved tribes in Magic, recurring several times across the game's history.
And when Lorwyn introduced Treefolk and especially Kithkin, as almost completely new tribes, it is laying the groundwork for Treefolk and/or Kithkin to come back later in Magic's history. Like Slivers in Tempest, Treefolk and Kithkin are planting new seeds that we may be able to harvest in the future. I can't say when, but I bet we'll see both of them again after Lorwyn is complete.
Last Week's Poll
|Changes to improve Magic for the long-term often cause short-term turmoil. Examples include the Restricted List, the play/draw rule, Paris mulligans instead of no-land or all-land mulligans, Sixth Edition rules, foils, the new card frame, and creature type updates. Which should we do?|
|Make the long-term change now. It's worth the complaining and turmoil in the short term to keep the game strong for the long term.||5405||85.8%|
|Stop making long-term changes. Keep Magic as close to its original form as possible.||891||14.2%|
[The survey originally included in this article has been removed.]