How We Draft, How We’ve Drafted

Posted in Limited Information on July 25, 2006

By Noah Weil

If you're as avid an “Ask Wizards” fan as I am, you've probably seen this recent entry:

April 14, 2006

Q: "Where did the splendid Draft Viewer go? It was featured in the coverage of pro tour London 2005...and drafting (along with thinking to myself, 'yep, I'm the BEST, it's just I wasn't there...') is fun!"
Munich, Germany

A: From Greg Collins, event coverage producer:

Draft Viewer"Hi Martin –

"We’re not ashamed to say that we think the Draft Viewer is one of the coolest bells and whistles we’ve added to the site in awhile. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a Limited Pro Tour since London! That problem is solved at Pro Tour-Prague on May 5-7, when the entire Ravnica block will be drafted by the best players in the world. We’ll be bringing you at least the Top 8 draft in Draft Viewer form, along with a complete analysis of the draft. If you want to get a leg up on how to draft the whole block, be sure to tune in to the event coverage. You can also expect to see the Viewer show up in the return of Limited Information column, where we’ll be experimenting with all sorts of ways to review drafts."

Martin is correct of course, the draft viewer is trés cool. There was no way this column was going to exclude such a useful and entertaining tool. I'm told in future versions of Magic Online, major event drafts will be automatically recorded for viewing later on. When that's implemented, it will certainly be a major tool and Limited Information will enjoy making use of it. For now though, a draft review takes a little effort to set up.

Well, that's not quite accurate. Online drafts are relatively easy to record. The most popular tool for that is MTGO Draft Cap, discussed last week as a walkthrough enabler. Things become slightly more complicated when you want to record and analyze a real life draft, with your real life play group. Should you want to put in the time, and I'd recommend it, that technique is detailed below. For now, we have LI's first draft viewer column, taken from a high quality local player base.

One important point is that this particular draft was done a number of months ago. It was actually one of the test drafts from before Pro Tour--Prague, which as you may remember, occurred on the same weekend as the official release of Dissension. This draft had a lot of value for the qualified competitors who wanted as much experience as possible with RGD before their Pro Tour. Some picks might look crazy or silly now, but keep in mind, the whole point of this early draft was to discover what cards and strategies didn't work as much as what did. To that end there was success; a lot of cards “on the fence” received field testing. For example, Ricky Boyes' estimation of Carom went down after this draft; a card he originally considered incredibly powerful.

The other dash of verisimilitude was the inclusion of Mike Smetana. Mike Smetana is a former Pro Tour competitor, but hasn't really been involved in Magic for the previous block. That should be evident at his second pick, where he passes a Moldervine Cloak for Stinkweed Imp. The snooty readers may think including someone so inexperienced in a draft ruins the whole point, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The simple reality is it's rare for a draft to have a full complement of experienced players, with equitable card evaluations. Even, or especially, at a Pro Tour, there will be people who show up who will seem remarkably ignorant of the “power” cards and decks. This was especially true for pre-release PT Prague. The decision to include Mr. Smetana was not made randomly. He was the perfect representative of a certain kind of PT player: talented but unaware of the most recent evaluations. The fact he happened to play kingmaker in this draft was unfortunate, but it does happen. Here is that draft, in all its informative glory:

Again, the point of this exercise was not to “win the draft” but to “learn things to win future drafts”. Mike Smetana learned a ton, and had a good time besides. He's since bought a number of packs on Magic Online and is now as big a fan of RGD as you'll ever see.

From the draft viewer, can you determine who had the winningest deck? 

Adam Strong

Download Arena Decklist

This was actually a very helpful deck to construct, because it featured one of the best archetypes from RGD draft: R/B/W. This color scheme utilizes all a guild from each booster, as well as offering a lot of removal and efficient creatures. Adam's deck was somewhat more controlling than most versions of this stripe, but with Brightflame and Faith's Fetters, he had reasons to be. The double Mortify is of course an amazing addition as well, but the real value to this deck was the removal combined with the quality creature base.

Adam's deck had the removal and it had the pressure to back it up. While it could go into control mode with the cards mentioned above, creatures like Hunted Dragon and 2 Guardian of the Guildpact also gave him the option into an aggression. That style of play was important against Adam's first round opponent Mike Thompson. Here is Mike's deck:

Mike Thompson

Download Arena Decklist

Mike had an incredibly powerful removal suite as well, but Mike lacked the creatures necessary to take full advantage. With only twelve creatures, and two of those being Defenders, Mike is almost forced into the control player's role in every situation. Mike is allowed to start attacking only when their creatures are destroyed because, unlike Adam's deck, Mike never wants to get into a race. It's a subtle distinction, but in this draft, it made all the difference. Did Mike Thompson have an opportunity to get better creatures at the expense of some removal during the draft? Take a look for yourself; all the data is there. You can bet we certainly examined things, to our benefit.

The value in this kind of exercise should be apparent. Not only do you have your own draft to examine and find errors, but you get to inspect the tendencies of your playing buddies. I don't mean to suggest you use that info to crush them, but rather to gain a more critical and objective eye to how another player operates. When you watch a player you work with and respect do something unexpected, you get to ask him about it. Being in the particular draft makes the exchange even more memorable and relevant. If you and your group are interested in recording their own draft sometime in a real life setting, there are options available. Here is what we used:

First off, player X (me in this case) won't be playing, for reasons that will be clear momentarily. That player instead gets the 24 boosters together and opens and records each card in the pack. Those cards all get a code, for example B11 or F8, corresponding to the position and the card number. Each card than gets a removable sticker with that code on it, shortly to be re-affixed. Here's an example:

beware of E14!

This is a simple process, and not particularly costly or time consuming. The pack recording took about half an hour, with 1,000 orange, removable stickers costing $4.50 at a standard office supply store.

After the recording, everyone gets their stickered packs and drafts normally. Whenever a player picks a card, they place the sticker on a specially made sheet, like so:

Bam, one recorded real life draft, to peruse at your leisure. Why use the stickers at all? They're not strictly needed, but I felt it made the draft smoother and more realistic. You don't really want the players next to you knowing what you've taken. Brian Wong had a second pick Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran that would have required a lot of ink and time to write out on a sheet, never minding the fact there aren't many Ravnica cards with names that long, or ones containing commas. I suggested taking a permanent marker and just writing on the card face, allowing people to write the code number directly on their sheet. For some reason, that idea wasn't met with much enthusiasm.

For the watcher, I had a bit of a puzzle. Knowing the packs ahead of time, I tried to predict what the direction the draft would take. I was completely wrong of course, but it was fun making the attempt. Little known fact: The packs from all Pro Tour Top 8s are recorded ahead of time. Many a coverage reporter has examined these lists, looking for interesting snags and scenarios for the players down the road. It's actually quite a feat to predict archetypes for a table based on the packs beforehand, but of course practice helps.

Certain constraints, be they geographical, demographical, or otherwise, can prevent a person from having a group of peers to play and improve with. That's alright, these days there's Magic Online to help a solitary figure improve. Playing with people of comparable talent - even those in different countries - goes a long way. However, should you have the lifestyle or domicile to support it, a group of players to work with yields a lot of benefits, both competitive and otherwise. I'm 100% certain that without working with some extremely talented groups of players over the years, I would not have had nearly the amount of success I've been blessed with. Without those victories, who knows what you'd be reading right now! So clearly, a playgroup has a lot to offer.

Living in Seattle, I currently play with a group of people 10-14 strong. That's a pretty good-sized collection of people, although there's certainly rotation as life intrudes. I'd like to share some of the strengths of this collection, in the hopes it will inspire you to work more effectively within your own circle of playtest buddies.

Why even bring this up at all? Limited Information is about draft and sealed, not group dynamics, right? Well that's true as far as it goes, but for the competitive players who want to make it to the next level, the human element is quite critical. Draft walkthroughs will only go so far without other people for which to express and modify opinions. You can qualify for a Limited Pro Tour on the back of an amazing sealed deck and perfect draft, once or twice, maybe. However, staying on the train, or qualifying again (and again) requires some interpersonal interplay. A lot of people do this with Magic Online alone, but if you have the real life option as well, why not go for it? Here's what we do to make practice drafts as effective as possible, so that when it's crunch time at the higher levels, we take advantage of the opportunity.

1. Discourage rare drafting.


Stomping Ground
This is not a dig into those whose economic conditions require the occasional gold-symboled-centric selection. Even this author has grabbed what could be considered a worse card for the sake of monetary return. Depending on the circumstances, it can be the right choice, but those circumstances are not at the Top 8 of a PTQ. When I'm doing serious practice, the last thing I want is a Stomping Grounds distracting me, but that doesn't mean the temptation doesn't occur. People are putting up their own product to draft after all.

The solution to this is rather simple: the winner(s) get all the rares afterwards. Now you're not only discouraged from rare drafting (since you won't keep them), you're also encouraged to draft the best deck possible! Most people know that Izzet Boilerworks is a better Limited card than Steam Vents. Unfortunately, that doesn't make that pick particularly obvious when you actually have a booster with both in front of you. Now, no one has to be torn. Only through you or your team winning will you get to actually add the Rimescale Dragon or Heartbeat of Spring to your trade binder.

2. Discuss discuss discuss

Magic, one quickly learns, is a complicated game. People do have their specialties within the context of a game, but it's rare indeed to find people who've mastered every aspect. Therefore, it behooves you to surround yourself with people whom you can discuss with items of interest or difficulty. Be it draft picks or in-game scenarios, the ability to talk about potential errors or innovations with your peers cannot be overstated.

This is actually one of the biggest tips I can offer to improving one's play. Finding interesting situations in Magic and going over why you feel a certain way, with someone who doesn't, is great. This is especially beneficial if you're able to admit some of your ideas are circumspect (see below). This is, I feel, the greatest strength of our playgroup. When an interesting game state occurs, a player will ask spectators (after the match) what they would have done in that situation, and why. Being able to see the cards, and hear what a player thinks in a particular situation helps everyone. One only needs to read the message boards of walkthrough columns to see people going back and forth with their ideas and preferences. Which brings us to:

3. Be supportive


Team Spirit
Magic players are, by and large, competitive people. While that is a virtue within the game, it can be disruptive outside of it. Even amongst friends and colleagues, one's scrappy nature can do unfortunate things to group harmony. It only takes one person to laughingly quash a new draft strategy or a suggested “under-the-radar” card to prevent a brave fellow from speaking out ever again. This is clearly bad for the group as a whole. One only needs to read the message boards of walkthrough articles to see people being extremely argumentative towards picks or strategies they don't agree with.

When a player does suggest a new idea (drawing first in a particular format, playing an unusual color combination, etc.) give them some respect and reasonable consideration. They don't have to be right, but by creating a supportive environment, you can at least encourage players to keep trying new things, and sharing them! From a pragmatic side, encouraging your teammates to do something unusual shifts risk away from you. From a human side, allowing people to try new things in a game designed to let people try new things is both tolerant and very positive. No one expects you to agree with everything everyone says, but by disagreeing with an idea, instead of simply stamping down whomever came up with it, you help foster an environment where everyone wins.

I hope these tips will be helpful to you and your playing buddies. Next week, Coldsnap gets that much-deserved Limited examination. Until then, good luck with the tail end of the PTQ Kobe season. Thanks for reading.

-Noah Weil

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