Questions And...

Posted in Limited Information on May 20, 2008

By Steve Sadin

I'm in an extremely good mood right now.

I just finished up my academic year, moved into my first apartment and I'm about to start three and a half months of nonstop Magic.

The most important tournament of my summer is Pro Tour–Hollywood this weekend (wish me luck!), but it certainly isn't the only one. From PT–Hollywood I am going directly to England where I am going to spend a few days at my good friend and coverage maestro Rich Hagon's house before we drive together to Grand Prix—Birmingham.

After GP–Birmingham, I get a couple of weeks to recover before the Sealed / Booster Draft GP–Indianapolis. Immediately after Indy I'm off to GP–Buenos Aires. I get a few weeks without major tournaments before I head over to GP–Madrid, another Limited Grand Prix, and after Madrid it's straight to U.S. Nationals in Chicago, followed immediately by GP–Denver. I get a weekend off then I'm off to GP–Copenhagen, after Copenhagen I'm off to GP–Manila, the final event of the summer.

The only major tournament that I am going to miss this summer is Grand Prix–Kobe, and that's only because it's on the same weekend as U.S. Nationals.

So I guess you could say that I'm a little bit excited.

What Should I Do?

(I apologize in advance for getting overly philosophical with this next sentence, but I'm going to do it anyway.)

In Limited, as in life, a lot of questions don't have yes/no answers. Rather, they have to be worked out by trusting your own intuition and your own sense of what is right.

This week I am going to present you with some booster draft questions that don't necessarily have definitive answers. To make things even more interesting, I am only going to look at questions involving bombs.

A Recipe for Disaster

Mistbind Clique
Bombs are one of the most important parts about Booster Draft, but not always in the way you might think. One way that bombs can have a huge effect on your draft is if you open one, but don't get passed the tools to support it. I've seen countless people, myself included, completely throw away their chances of winning countless drafts in an effort to build a deck around an early-pick bomb... even when it should be painfully obvious that it just isn't going to work.

The draft that I have seared into my memory as a prime example of this is my first draft from GP–Daytona Beach '07, a Lorwyn Sealed / Booster Draft Grand Prix.

To give you a little bit of context on this draft (this can also be read as me trying to save some face), I had reached the monumental 20 pro point threshold a couple of weeks earlier at GP–Brisbane '07, also Lorwyn Sealed / Booster Draft, where I posted a Top 16 finish after drafting a pair of five-color changeling decks with very strong Faeries elements. Once I had ensured myself pro status for 2007 and 2008, I had to take a few weeks off from Magic in order to catch up on my studies.

In Brisbane, and in all of my practice drafts prior to my trip to Australia, Faeries were cripplingly underdrafted. It turned out that that was not the case at all by the time that GP–Daytona Beach rolled around.

I opened up my first pack in my first draft, and I was ecstatic to see a Mistbind Clique staring back at me. I immediately took it, expecting to have a never-ending stream of Faeries fall into my stack as had happened in all of my previous drafts.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the way things went down.

Instead of getting a bunch of good Faeries, I got next to none, but I remained convinced that I was going to get a great Faerie deck until well into my second pack, at which point I realized I had completely buried myself and that the only way that I had a chance to save my draft was to try to put together an awkward blue-black control deck that revolved around two Thorntooth Witches. Now, I'm not trying to knock Thorntooth Witch in any way, but it isn't exactly the best card in a blue-black deck.

As could be expected, my deck wound up being a total train wreck. I lost my first two matches before barely beating a mana-screwed opponent who was complaining about how he had one of the worst decks he had ever drafted.

Now, I would have first picked the Mistbind Clique no matter how popular I thought drafting Faeries was going to be that weekend. That isn't where things went wrong. It wasn't when I took a good black card second, or when I took a good blue card third, but there was definitely a point at which I should have jumped ship.

It's really hard to figure out exactly when to jump ship and abandon your bomb completely, or when to just try to splash it. There certainly aren't any rules that tell you when it's time to switch. In fact, on this type of decision more than any other decision that you are going to encounter, you are going to have to go with your instincts.

I'll have more on honing your Booster Draft instincts soon, but for right now I want to present some very interesting, concrete drafting decisions that you could easily be faced with in your very next draft....

The Kind of Problem I Want to Have

I was talking with Brian David-Marshall the other day, and he brought up a draft where he opened up his first pack and had to choose between Firespout and Boartusk Liege. Before telling me what he took, he asked me what I would do in that spot.

Boartusk Liege

After agonizing over it for a bit, I said that I would go with the Boartusk Liege. Turns out it was the same pick that BDM had chosen to go with.

My initial reasoning for taking the Boartusk Liege over the comparably awesome Firespout is that while both are reasonably easy to play, with Firespout actually being noticeably easier on your mana, Boartusk Liege will take over games completely on its own. Of course, Firespout wins a lot of games nearly single-handedly, but you often still need things to go right for you after resolving a Firespout.

Another element that pushed me towards Boartusk Liege is that Firespout does very little against an opponent's bomb. This includes what would happen if you were forced to go head to head with the Boartusk Liege that you would have passed in order to pick up the Firespout.

Now I was fairly confident about my answer at the time, but every time I come back to the question I have a different level of confidence about my answer. Most of the time that I spend thinking about this pick I feel like Boartusk Liege is the way to go, but the two cards are just so close and just so different to weigh in definitively on either side.

And that's exactly what makes bomb-related questions so interesting. Their effects are (usually) so unique that, while it may be clear that they are in a different stratum from cards that are simply good, it becomes incredibly difficult to evaluate them against one another.

Mirror Entity
Because most bombs are uncommon or rare, we get relatively few chances to play with or against them. Jon Finkel, who did a lot of Lorwyn block drafts, got his first chance to play with Mirror Entity at Pro Tour–Kuala Lumpur. Jon, and every one else at the Pro Tour, knew that Mirror Entity was an awesome card just by looking at it, easily worthy of a first pick. But it can be tough to gauge just how good a card is if you never, or rarely, get the chance to actually play with it.

What if Jon had opened an Austere Command or a Profane Command to go along with the Mirror Entity? Sure, the chances against that happening are astronomical (especially at a Pro Tour, where foils are removed from the packs), and the difference in card quality is miniscule at most, but it is a theoretically possible occurrence that anyone could weigh in on, on either side, and still be right.

To say that there are a lot of things to consider when choosing between bombs would be a gross understatement.

I've got another tough question: What do you do if you open a pack with Jaws of Stone and Oversoul of Dusk? Now, both of these cards are awesome, and both require a huge color commitment, or an Elsewhere Flask, to reach their full potential.

To get the most out of Oversoul of Dusk all that you have to do is draft a green-white deck, which while far from being the ideal color combination, isn't bad at all. Whereas to get the most out of Jaws of Stone you need to be mono-red or have an Elsewhere Flask.

Oversoul of Dusk
I don't expect to get into many arguments by stating that, at its best, Jaws of Stone is better than Oversoul of Dusk. I also don't expect to get into many arguments by stating that Oversoul of Dusk is easier to use at its full potential than Jaws of Stone can.

At two-thirds strength, Jaws of Stone is still probably better than Oversoul of Dusk. It's not until Jaws of Stone is reduced to about half strength (say in a two color deck with 9-10 Mountains) that it is noticeably worse than Oversoul of Dusk.

I am pretty sure that I would go with Jaws of Stone with the intention to jump on any Elsewhere Flasks that I see (I am not above taking a second-pick Elsewhere Flask if my first pick was a Jaws of Stone). Jaws of Stone at full power is one of the most powerful Limited cards imaginable and I don't know about you, but I have a lot of trouble turning down that kind of potential.

Making Things Happen

So let's say that you take the Jaws of Stone but you quickly get pushed out of red and into a blue-black control deck. In the second pack you picked up an Elsewhere Flask, so you know that you will have a reasonable chance to play your Jaws of Stone as you will simply need to see another Elsewhere Flask to have easy enough access to make your Jaws of Stone significantly better than a Fireball.

Heck, even if you don't get another enabler such as Elsewhere Flask (or Beseech the Queen to get Elsewhere Flask), you might very well choose to play the Jaws of Stone with the single enabler under the assumption that you will win any game that goes very late on the back of your combo.

So you've got the makings of a blue-black control deck, possibly splashing Jaws of Stone, when you open the third pack and see another Jaws of Stone and another Elsewhere Flask staring back at you.

Jaws of Stone
Elsewhere Flask

What do you do?

I'll tell you right now, there is no single easy answer to that question. If you take the Elsewhere Flask you ensure that you will be able to play your Jaws of Stone and that will probably be enough ensure you victory in most long games. If you take the second Elsewhere Flask, there is next to no chance that you will see another Jaws of Stone, but you might see some other color-intensive bomb such as Corrupt, Flow of Ideas, Howl of the Night Pack, Oversoul of Dusk, Twilight Shepherd, etc.

If you take the second Jaws of Stone and you pick up another Elsewhere Flask, you are going to be living on easy street, probably not having too much difficulty waltzing to an X-0. However, if you don't get that second Elsewhere Flask you are going to be banging your head against the table.

The key to figuring out what pick you should make requires you to gauge the relative power of your deck. If my deck is looking really good I will take the Elsewhere Flask every time. If I think my deck will end up being pretty good and I don't think the other decks at the table are particularly special, then I will once again take the Elsewhere Flask every time. If I think my deck is terrible, and I need a fully charged Jaws of Stone to have any chance of winning, then I am going to take the Jaws of Stone, as I will actually have a deck with a reasonable win percentage if I pick up another Elsewhere Flask.

If I think that my deck is OK, or if I think my deck is good but the other decks at the table are very good, then I've got a real problem to solve. I don't know what I would do in those borderline spots, but I do know that I would agonize over whichever decision I made for days on end.

Some Picks to Make You Think

Advice_from_the_FaeIf you enjoy thinking about picks like Boartusk Liege vs. Firespout, here are some other picks that you might enjoy pondering.

Mass Calcify vs. Incremental Blight

Murderous Redcap vs. Windbrisk Raptor

Oversoul of Dusk vs. Burn Trail

Burn Trail vs. Jaws of Stone

Firespout vs. Incremental Blight

Demigod of Revenge vs. Incremental Blight

Let me know in the forums if you have an opinion on any of these picks, or if you have a bomb versus bomb pick of your own that you want to discuss.

I do have one request though: if you have the time, please explain the thought process behind your pick(s). I love learning about what goes into players' decision-making process, and I think this is a really good way to help us understand how people think about bombs.

Take care,
Steve Sadin

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