Most of my draft walkthroughs will be from an 8-4 queue on Magic Online. These are essentially packed with more difficult opponents and as such the quality of the games and the draft itself are better. This is actually better for you if you hope to improve your drafting skills as the signals will be more reliable, rare drafting will occur less (as the incentive is to make the final, as opposed to just winning the first round) and you will be better rewarded for making the correct picks.
However, most people draft in an environment much like that of the 4-3-2-2 queue, so for my first installment I will try to examine the minor nuances that this environment brings. These will also often be similar to most PTQ Top 8 drafts where there was a small field to start with or a general lack of high quality players. I've heard it said that drafting online is much like a Catch-22, whereby, in order to improve you should draft in the 8-4, but you seemingly have less chance of making the finals so will often lose more product in the effort to improve, and so, if on a low budget, will often not play enough Limited to improve.
This is not true. Most people reckon they can squeeze one win out of a draft deck, and hence play the 4-3-2-2 so that they get two boosters back and can keep drafting. However, it is likely that if your deck is capable of winning the first round, it has at least an okay shot of winning the next, so that you make the finals. If you are not that great a drafter, your decks will often be erratic – some very bad and others good, where you were in the right colors at the right time. If you get one of these good decks, you have a far greater chance of winning two than you do of winning one with the bad deck. In an 8-4, you only need to win two before you can intentionally draw the finals and receive six boosters. You will generally only need to reach the final of an 8-4, two wins necessary, once for every three wins you achieve in a 4-3-2-2! You need one extra win in a 4-3-2-2 to win the same amount...
Added to this is the fact that even if you get quite good and make the finals of a 4-3-2-2 quite regularly, and even win it – you only break even. Sure you get some rares, but they probably average around one tix a draft, meaning you have to win to actually make the slightest of profits. It is only the 8-4 queue that offers the chance to make a profit.
MTGO economics aside, to the Draft er.... Cave!
Pack 1, Pick 1
Viscerid Deepwalker, Ironclaw Buzzardiers, Search for Tomorrow, Icatian Crier, Dark Withering, Goblin Skycutter, Cyclopean Giant, Brass Gnat, Savage Thallid, Screeching Sliver, Fledgling Mawcor, Phantom Wurm, Plated Pegasus, Nether Traitor, Avoid Fate
Nothing awe-inspiring about this pack, and straight off the bat it leaves us with a decision to make. The three most powerful cards are Dark Withering, Search for Tomorrow, and Fledgling Mawcor. There's not too much power difference between these cards, so it can often come down to color preference. You could run the black gambit and go with the Withering, but I feel that Fledgling Mawcor edges the others out slightly in power, and I like blue to boot.
Pick: Fledgling Mawcor
Aside: During the first few picks, once I have decided what card I will pick, I work out how many solid playables there are in the pack to see if I know what will wheel. It is often the late picks and the foreknowledge that something as simple as a Basal Sliver or a Jedit's Dragoons will wheel, that will determine which card you might pick earlier.
Pack 1, Pick 2
Temporal Eddy, Mogg War Marshal, Terramorphic Expanse, Drudge Reavers, Psychotic Episode, Jedit's Dragoons, Sprout, Foriysian Interceptor, Basalt Gargoyle, Celestial Crusader, Saltcrusted Steppe, Magus of the Candelabra, Flying Men, Plains
A very poor booster. Here we have the option of Terramorphic Expanse or Celestial Crusader. Early on in a draft, I like to pick cards with potential. A powerful Might Sliver or Psionic Sliver in an empty pack will often shape the draft. This normally leads to my first few picks being in different colors, but it means that I have the highest chance for a high-power deck, whilst also getting the most out of the color signals of the drafter on the right. With this in consideration, the oft-overrated Celestial Crusader is our pick of choice.
Pick: Celestial Crusader
Pack 1, Pick 3
Aether Web, Cloudchaser Kestrel, Drudge Reavers, Goblin Skycutter, Cancel, Drifter il-Dal, Subterranean Shambler, Mindlash Sliver, Havenwood Wurm, Telekinetic Sliver, Paradise Plume, Curse of the Cabal, Dragonstorm
Another weak pack, but this time bringing a tight choice. The potential and synergy of our two options are both high. Either the Cloudchaser Kestrel to follow the heavy white theme of the Crusader or the Telekinetic Sliver to open the doors to the powerful white-blue Sliver archetype. This pick took me a lot of time and I eventually decided on the Kestrel. I haven't seen any solid blue cards since my Fledgling Mawcor, and it is likely that it is being cut.
Pick: Cloudchaser Kestrel
Pack 1, Pick 4
Strength in Numbers, Zealot il-Vec, Snapback, Momentary Blink, Ancient Grudge, Greenseeker, Foriysian Interceptor, Basal Sliver, Voidmage Husher, Firewake Sliver, Hail Storm, Penumbra Spider
Several options here. Penumbra Spider is a more powerful card than Hailstorm or Strength in Numbers and Momentary Blink is more powerful than Snapback. This narrows it down a little, but leaves us once more with a conundrum. Blink and Spider are of similar power levels but the problem is that I haven't had any particularly strong signals for either color to use as a guideline. I have yet to take a green card, and the only signal so far was the Telekinetic Sliver, so I take the Blink to try and bring my Fledgling Mawcor back into focus.
Pick: Momentary Blink
Looks like green is open. Scryb Ranger is a very powerful card and easily good enough to take over the far weaker Temporal Eddy. Success in this format seems to be determined by a good reading of the signals. Let's just hope this one is right.
Pick: Scryb Ranger
This pack is a joyful sight but comes with mixed blessings. It shows that both of our colors, green and white, are open. The Kestrel is the strongest card here, especially given that we already have a Crusader. The only problem is that we are passing three green cards, giving poor signals to the guy on our left. This is normally never a strong enough reason to not pick the best card for you. I do not expect to see much green from the left, having passed Strength in Numbers, Hailstorm, and Penumbra Spider on top of the cards in this pack.
Pick: Cloudchaser Kestrel
An easy pick as Thrill of the Hunt is just so powerful, but it is yet again a pity to be shipping another green card so late.
Pick: Thrill of the Hunt
It should be noted that the Corpulent Corpse indicates that black might be open, but as we saw no early strength in that color and are now happily entrenched in our colors, we can safely ignore it. Here we are offered a choice in two drops. White-green favors aggression over defense, and the Errant Doomsayers is better in this department.
Pick: Errant Doomsayers
Pick: Icatian Crier
It unlikely that Sprout will make our deck given that we have shipped so many Thallids and have yet to pick up any Herd Gnarrs or Primal Forcemages, so I pick the Temporal Eddy as it can often ruin white-green's aggressive starts.
Pick: Temporal Eddy
Pick: Havenwood Wurm
When it comes to this late stage of a draft, you will seldom pick up any playables. So you should be looking for rarely used sideboard cards, and if these are not present, you should be taking cards that you do not wish opponents to play. I'm talking about sorceries and instants – cards you cannot easily play around. You'll know what I'm talking about if you've ever lost to a fifteenth-pick Traitor's Clutch.
Pack 2, Pick 1
Scarwood Treefolk, Slipstream Serpent, Gaze of Justice, Strangling Soot, Fathom Seer, Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, Viashino Bladescout, Ophidian Eye, Molder, Children of Korlis, Molten Slagheap, Pendelhaven Elder, Dreadship Reef, Stronghold Overseer, Avatar of Woe
Wow, have we had poor luck in opening packs. Our options are either to take one of the two very weak green cards, or hate one of the powerful black rares that our white-green deck will have difficulty dealing with. Note: I seldom advocate hating if you can take a card that will make your main deck, but I'm doubtful about whether either of these cards will. Since we might end up playing the Icatian Crier and we already have the Doomsayers and Srcyb Ranger, I grudgingly pick the Pendelhaven Elder.
Pick: Pendelhaven Elder
Pack 2, Pick 2
Scarwood Treefolk, Orcish Cannonade, Amrou Scout, Keldon Halberdier, Mana Skimmer, Skulking Knight, Brass Gnat, Dream Stalker, Watcher Sliver, Fool's Demise, Harmonic Sliver, Ixidron, Jasmine Boreal, Restore Balance
Jasmine Boreal and Amrou Scout are our options. Rebels are one of the few sources of card advantage in this archetype, and I'm hoping the legend will wheel as the pack is pretty deep, so I opt for the common.
Pick: Amrou Scout
Pack 2, Pick 3
Orcish Cannonade, Strangling Soot, Gemhide Sliver, Mindstab, Gaze of Justice, Viashino Bladescout, Mystical Teachings, Thrill of the Hunt, Shadow Sliver, Spell Burst, Dementia Sliver, Phyrexian Totem, Squall Line
Gemhide Sliver is pretty weak in white-green, where you are normally more concerned with hitting an aggressive curve than accelerating to your few expensive threats. This leaves us with the option of Squall Line versus Thrill of the Hunt. I think most people would slam the Squall Line with a sheepish grin on their face, but it is inferior to the Thrill of the Hunt. Thrill is an incredibly powerful card when you can easily play it twice, and I pick it here for that very reason.
Pick: Thrill of the Hunt
Pack 2, Pick 4
Tolarian Sentinel, Trespasser il-Vec, Spinneret Sliver, Fortify, Spiketail Drakeling, Skulking Knight, Brass Gnat, Dream Stalker, Watcher Sliver, Saltcrusted Steppe, Primal Forcemage, Sacred Mesa
This is a rare surprise in a 4-3-2-2, although we did do a very good job of cutting the normally underdrafted white so it shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Sacred Mesa fell into my pile with a more-than-sheepish grin plastered on my face.
But this is not all we learn from this booster. Most people see the Mesa, click on it, and miss the rest of the information that this pack provides. There are nine other solid playables in the pack, meaning we will when this pack returns to us, it might have another present for us. Out of Spinneret Sliver, Fortify, Watcher Sliver, Saltcrusted Steppe, and Primal Forcemage, I expect the last two to return, both of which combo well with the Mesa. I'm hoping the Forcemage will come back as we already have Havenwood Wurm, Scryb Ranger, and Celestial Crusder, so I keep this info in mind.
Pick: Sacred Mesa
Fortify is an amazing trick for white-green, but Benalish Cavalry is one of white-green's best friends. It's the most aggressive common two drop available and we already have two Thrill of the Hunts, so I take the beater.
Pick: Benalish Cavalry
Fathom Seer should never go this late. The card is almost certainly better than Looter il-Kor and is one of the best commons in the set. Herd Gnarr is the only playable for us, and a welcomed one at that.
Pick: Herd Gnarr
The second Gnarr means we can start things synergy. With the Mesa, two Flash guys and the prospect of a wheeling Forcemage, our Icatian Crier will almost certainly make the maindeck now. I will also be looking out for Uktabi Drakes and Giant Dustwasps to help enforce the strategy.
Pick: Herd Gnarr
We now have a Forcemage, irrelevant of whether the other wheels or not, so all systems go.
Pick: Primal Forcemage
A weak pack, but instead of hating the Slipstream Serpent I will take the Gaze of Justice for the sideboard, given that I have an Amrou Scout and a Crier, though it is unlikely I will board it unless I see something like a Fortune Thief.
Pick: Gaze of Justice
Pick: Jasmine Boreal
Pack 2, Picks 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15
Nothing too exciting here, other than a slight disappointment that the Forcemage didn't wheel. Instead, the far more powerful Tolarian Sentinel and Dream Stalker were still in the pack – another indication of a 4-3-2-2's lesser skill level.
Pack 3, Pick 1
Giant Dustwasp, Dreamscape Artist, Ridged Kusite, Dawn Charm, Dust Corona, Vitaspore Thallid, Dash Hopes, Primal Plasma, Essence Warden, Mana Tithe, Sulfur Elemental, Ana Battlemage, Shrouded Lore, Magus of the Tabernacle, Body Double
Magus of the Tabernacle is a power card. It is a card that this deck definitely does not wish to face. But it is far better suited at home in a white-blue or white-black control deck than here. Giant Dustwasp, however, finds a happy home. It's a pity to see the Sulfur Elemental as it is particularly devastating against our deck, but such things happen.
Pick: Giant Dustwasp
Pack 3, Pick 2
Battering Sliver, Reflex Sliver, Midnight Charm, Saltfield Recluse, Evolution Charm, Shade of Trokair, Fury Charm, Vampiric Link, Brute Force, Prodigal Pyromancer, Sulfur Elemental, Deadwood Treefolk, Molten Firebird, Magus of the Library
Lots of playables here – Saltfield Recluse, Deadwood Treefolk, Evolution Charm, Shade of Trokair, and Magus of the Library. The same that was said about the Gemhide Sliver goes for the Magus – this deck has no splash, so the Charm can also be dismissed, and the Shade is not close enough in power to the other two to warrant too much thought. The Treefolk is an awesome card, but we don't actually have too many stand out creatures that we wish to be returned, and we already have an Amrou Scout with few Rebels to find. The Recluse is also an awesomely powerful card. Also to be noted whilst playing, there is another Sulfur Elemental...
Pick: Saltfield Recluse
Pack 3, Pick 3
Mire Boa, Battering Sliver, Aven Riftwatcher, Shade of Trokair, Vitaspore Thallid, Brain Gorgers, Fury Charm, Wistful Thinking, Simian Spirit Guide, Piracy Charm, Fa'adiyah Seer, Phantasmagorian, Shivan Meteor
Shade is an oft-underrated card and works very well the Gnarrs and Forcemage. We also have a lot of two drops already, decreasing the Mire Boa's still stellar value. This is still a close pick, and I, mistakenly, went with the traditional choice of the Boa. I missed the synergy the Shade had with the deck – oops.
Pick: Mire Boa
Pack 3, Pick 4
Stingscourger, Synchronous Sliver, Utopia Vow, Spitting Sliver, Wistful Thinking, Keldon Marauders, Dash Hopes, Healing Leaves, Sinew Sliver, Venarian Glimmer, Gaea's Anthem, Dreamscape Artist
We have a deck with lots of small beaters and two token generators. Hey Gaea's Anthem!
Pick: Gaea's Anthem
Another tough decision – Giant Dustwasp, Uktabi Drake, and Malach of the Dawn. Lots of things to factor in here. The Malach is white, so it goes along with the Crusader and also provides us with some much-needed defense. The Drake is great and goes with all of the synergy, as does the Dustwasp, which is better in this deck due to its size as we are lacking in formidable bodies. Now, looking back at how well the synergy of the deck came together I think the Dustwasp was the correct pick, but I was concerned with being overrun before I had a chance to get to my Mesa or establish a controlling board position, so I took the Malach.
Pick: Malach of the Dawn
A disappointing selection after the previous loaded pack. None of the on-color cards will make our maindeck, nor are they worth taking for sideboard options, so we have to resort to hating. The Erratic Mutation is better than the Cradle to Grave and, if we pick up a late Evolution Charm, will give us the option of sideboarding it and the Mawcor in a match where the removal is needed.
Pick: Erratic Mutation
Another blank pack, so I snatch the Aquamorph Entity as it is the card I would least like to face.
Pick: Aquamorph Entity
Yay, a Drake.
Pick: Uktabi Drake
Pick: Essence Warden
It should be noted that on MTGO you can review all the cards that you have drafted whilst you draft. You should hide the cards you will not be playing, meaning you can look at what your deck will look like. Late in the draft you will realize that you already have enough playables and so can start ignoring cards and taking cards for the board or away from your opponents. It is harder to do this in real life, so unless you have a very good memory, stick to your own colors rather than hating.
No more cards for the deck. The only thing of note was snagging the late Sulfur Elemental – a happy occurrence.
Deck building was relatively simple. The two Gaze of Justices didn't warrant inclusion in the deck, nor did the Momentary Blink. This left us with 24 playables, and after much umming and errring the Pendelhaven Elder was cut as he is a little too passive and adds less to the deck than all the other cards. It should be noted that the deck is very good, despite us not getting any good first few picks and disappointing cards in Planar Chaos. This is because I was able to follow the signals that were being sent, rather than stick to any predetermined strategy or unwillingness to abandon my first pick.
The quarters were rather uneventful as my opponent was quite bad and my deck was really good. The Icatian Crier won me one of the games on the back of Scryb Ranger – making rather more creatures than seemed fair. I overran him with my good quality fliers in the other whilst Saltfield Recluse held the ground.
I lost a near un-losable game in the semis to a Fortune Thief when I had Gaea's Anthem and Sacred Mesa out against a red-black mage, but I destroyed him in the third game thanks to a sexy draw involving Essence Warden, Icatian Crier, Uktabi Drake and two Herd Gnarrs.
I lost the first game of the final to a 7/7 Errant Ephemeron (thanks to a Spike Tiller), and my slow draw couldn't race him. I won the other two in the same, incredibly sick fashion as can be seen in this screenshot:
Let me know in the forums if there are other things you would like me to focus on whilst drafting. Until next week,