Let Go

Posted in Limited Information on November 12, 2014

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

Last week, we talked about Jeskai, and in a previous week we hit on Abzan as well. As we work our way around the clans, I realized that I might not get to write about my favorite clan of them all: Five Color.

Fine, it's not really a clan, but it might be my most drafted archetype thus far in this format. I currently start with the mentality that I will likely be in all five colors, and then adjust accordingly if something else presents itself.

The Most Open

Anybody who has watched my draft videos or read this column knows that I value staying open in Booster Draft.

I value it highly.

My normal progression in a draft is to take the most outright powerful or efficient cards in the first few picks, and then dial into a set of colors slowly over the first pack. My ideal scenario is that I have a bunch of cards in one core color, with some "feeler" picks out in a few other colors as I open my second booster pack.

This way, when I open my pack, I can take essentially any card I want; including any big nasty bombs I open.

Staying open and reading the table are the name of the game for me, and I'm willing to sacrifice some power to get that information before moving in.

When you think about it, it's simple math. Even if it takes you an entire pack (yes, that's one-third of the whole draft) to figure out that you are in the wrong color(s), you still benefit from switching because if you are correct, you'll get two full packs of goodness coming your way.

In reality, it's not so cut-and-dried, as you will often abandon just one color in favor of another, meaning that your first picks weren't all wasted.

Once you get a feel for this style of drafting, you never go back. It takes some discipline and some faith in the process. Opening a sweet bomb and abandoning it part of the way through the first pack is a major ordeal for some players. They are buying chocolates and flowers for their first pick, ready to bring it home to meet the parents.

Letting go can be hard.

The true gamer play is to view it as simply one card in your deck. People tend to overvalue any one individual card. Even if it's the best card in the set, you have to remember that there will be times when you don't draw it. Additionally, you have to remember that your deck isn't simply void of a card if you don't run it.

I'll use a baseball statistic to illustrate this: WAR.

War-Name Aspirant | Art by David Gaillet

WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. Without going too deep, the basic concept is to figure out how many wins a player adds to a team over a player easily available to replace him.

Another way to put it: If Player A was replaced by a replacement player, how many games would the team win or lose as a result? It's a complex formula, but it usually returns something in the zero to seven range. That means that even the great players in baseball only add five or six wins to a team's total.

With a draft deck, the concept is similar. If you open a sweet bomb, but ultimately have to abandon it, it's probably not as damaging as you may think.

Many people view it as a total loss for that slot. They were playing the bomb, and now they aren't. They seem to think that their deck had a certain power level, and now it's that level but minus the bomb.

But this isn't the case. If you decide to abandon your bomb in favor of other colors, two things happen:

  1. Your deck will improve overall since you are moving into a color set that is more open and will give you higher average card quality over multiple draft picks.
  2. You still get to replace the slot the bomb held with a good card. Maybe it's not as good as the bomb itself, but it's important to remember that it's not a total loss for that slot.

Even the best card in the set can't have such a huge impact on your deck's overall win rate. I would need a time-traveling supercomputer to figure out the actual win rate effectiveness of an individual card, but my guess is that the values are closer than you think.

Let's compare two cards in Khans of Tarkir, just for fun.

Duneblast is one of the cards with the most raw power in the set. You've first-picked it and are very happy about it.

At some point in the draft, you have decided that Temur is open and have fully moved in. Instead of Duneblast you are playing this:

Now, it's pretty obvious that Duneblast and Glacial Stalker aren't in the same category when it comes to power level. But what about the power gap between the two? That's the key. It's not your deck minus Duneblast. It's your deck minus Duneblast, plus Glacial Stalker.

Glacial Stalker actually has quite a few advantages over Duneblast. It can be cast for colorless mana, as early as turn three. It only requires one blue mana symbol to be flipped face up or hard cast. It's also a proactive threat that can tussle nicely with other creatures on the ground, while enabling ferocious.

Given the fact that Duneblast costs a ton of mana, is a three-color card, and requires certain conditions to be great (namely you have to be just far enough behind), I could see the WAR for these cards being in the same ballpark. I would expect Duneblast's WAR to be higher, but we aren't talking about a massive gap here.

In a world where you could cast either, you would always take the Duneblast for it's awesome power potential, but if your entire deck improved as a result of ditching it, plus you had something reasonable to replace it with like Glacial Stalker, your win rate overall will have gone up significantly.

I know it's difficult to let go. That awesome bomb you opened, you were excited about, and you envisioned crushing your friends with, is a tough thing to see relegated to the deck box. But if you are a Nuts and Bolts Spike like I am, the decision becomes clear once you dive in a bit.

Five Colors

In Khans of Tarkir specifically, I may have taken this whole staying open thing to a new extreme. I start out the draft staying open, and try to stay open the whole entire time. I take dual- and tri-lands very highly, and have a select subset of cards that I want if I'm not taking the lands.

That's right, I'm drafting five colors! I feel that it should be considered as good as any of the three-color clans, as it easily outpaces them in terms of power level. In terms of consistency, it's behind, but not prohibitively so.

The key is, of course, the lands. You simply need critical mass on mana fixing to make this deck work. (I aim for eight to ten.) It's slow, somewhat inconsistent, but ultimately very powerful. Morphs also go a long way to making a real game out of it. Since you can cast them for colorless mana early-ish in the game, you can prevent being overrun by an aggressive deck.

The more morphs you play, the longer you have to find the mana needed to start flipping them face up. Once that happens, your opponent is at a huge disadvantage, as you could have literally any morph in the set under there. It's great.

The real thing to look out for in the draft portion is the lands, and how many you are seeing. If I am fighting with two people at the table for the lands, I'd prefer to just be in a two- or three-color deck instead. I don't like forcing any archetype, but this is the closest I have come in a long while to just pushing through the ultimate in openness.

Additionally it's super fun to play all the colors. Every game is different, and every decision matters (including which land to play when). I think that may be part of why I enjoy it so much. I don't expect it to last forever, and I'll be fine with downshifting to more traditional strategies, but for now I'm having fun and loving every minute of it.

I really love this draft format. It's been one of the best ones I have ever drafted, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it crack my list of Top 5 formats of all time. It's that good!

Until next week!

@Marshall_LR

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