What's Wrong?

Posted in Limited Information on March 13, 2012

By Steve Sadin

What happens when you go into a draft looking to play Werewolves and things are going according to plans through the first pack, but you don't get that critical mass of Werewolves and Wolves necessary to get value out of your Moonmist?

Moonmist | Art by Ryan Yee

Or maybe you did get your Werewolves and Wolves, but there wasn't a Moonmist, an Immerwolf, or a Full Moon's Rise in sight?

Or maybe you were being cut off on both sides during the draft, and you just don't have enough good spells of any sort to build a reasonable two-color deck?

How do you salvage what could easily be a really bad deck?

Before you can start solving your problems, you need to honestly assess your deck's weaknesses.

    Identifying the Problem(s)

Simply realizing your "deck is bad" isn't enough. You need to figure out what's wrong with it so you can put together a deck that can actually win in spite of its problems.

Do you have a bad curve going into pack three of the draft?

Scourge of Geier Reach | Art by Jung Park

If your spells do have an undesirable casting cost distribution, you might be able to fix your problem by simply prioritizing cheap spells over "better" cards at higher casting costs.

As long as you don't feel compelled to take expensive cards, like Into the Maw of Hell or Grasp of Phantoms—even when you're drafting decks that already have an abundance of other good things to do at that stage of the game—you'll be able to prevent a lot of drafts from turning into train wrecks.

If you aren't fortunate enough to find cheap spells during the final pack, you are going to need to look for more expensive cards that can have a big impact even if you're behind when you play them.

This, again, means you are going to need to devalue cards like Grasp of Phantoms, since it doesn't do much to help you out of situations where you're already behind.

And while I'm not usually a big fan of Abattoir Ghoul or Scourge of Geier Reach, if I'm struggling to find decent, cheap creatures I'm more likely to play the 3/2 first striker, or the potentially huge Scourge of Geier Reach, since they have the potential to stonewall opposing offenses.

    How's your mana?

Are you going to need to play a deck with shaky mana (either because you're going to be playing three colors or because you have a number of color-intensive cards in two colors)?

If it looks like you're on the road toward a deck with bad mana, you have two choices.

  • Embrace the fact you are going to have bad mana and simply take the best cards that come to you.
  • Do what you can to put together a deck that can easily cast its spells (even if those spells aren't going to be particularly powerful).

Murder of Crows | Art by Drew Baker

Generally, you should look to put together two-color decks (potentially with a light third-color splash). But if you get cut off from one or more of your colors, and you just don't have the tools to reliably win with a two-color deck, you might not have much of a choice.

If you do decide to go three colors, you should still make your picks with an idea of what your mana base will look like at the end of the draft. Are you going to be primarily in one color with two splashes? Two colors with a splash? Or are you going to be split evenly among three colors?

If you do decide to draft one main color with two splashes, you're going to want to minimize the color-intensive cards in your splash colors (especially at earlier points in the curve). Sure, Elite Vanguard is a good card in a heavy white deck, but if you can't reliably cast it early, it isn't going to do much for you.

And if you're playing a deck that's evenly split among three colors, you're going to want to avoid color-intensive cards almost entirely.

Sure, you can make exceptions for expensive spells, like Murder of Crows, or key removal spells, like Victim of Night—but those Crossway Vampires aren't going to have a good home in your deck.

    Does your deck need a way to win?

This is actually one of the easiest problems to solve, if you're aware of it.

While you might not be able to put together a good dedicated Werewolf deck, or a white-blue flier deck, there are plenty of big creatures you can pick up late—and bash your way to victory with.

In fact, one of my favorite backup plans (in just about every format) is to put together a big, dumb, "Dinosaur" deck full of cards like Hollowhenge Beast, Grizzled Outcasts, and even Kindercatch.

Hollowhenge Beast | Art by Dave Kendall

If your opponent doesn't have any good answers, or particularly good blockers (which happens more often than you might think), a Hollowhenge Beast or a Kindercatch won't be functionally all that different from a Dragon you would immediately first-pick.

If you're drafting a blue-black deck, you might not have access to that many Poor Man's Dragons, but there are still plenty of things you can do to maximize your win percentage against better decks.

For example, if you put a Spectral Flight on your Diregraf Ghoul, you'll win by turn six if your opponent doesn't have an answer.

Similarly, a Cobbled Wings on a Rotting Fensnake will let you take the game in a matter of turns if your opponent has nothing to stop it.

Sure, a Spectral Flight-enhanced Diregraf Ghoul will fall apart if your opponent has a Silent Departure, and a simple Geistflame will take out a Rotting Fensnake, but it's still in your best interest to play these high risk, high reward cards if your deck is going to have trouble winning otherwise.

You don't want to put yourself into a position where you are just going to lose to good decks.

    Is your deck missing the core components necessary to make a specific strategy work?

If you don't have a single Moonmist, Immerwolf, or Full Moon's Rise for your Werewolf deck, you need to come to terms with the fact that you aren't actually playing a Werewolf deck. You're playing a red-green deck that happens to have a lot of Werewolves.

When you come to this realization, you're going to need to proceed through the rest of the draft, and deck building, as though you were drafting a themeless red-green deck. That means you need to focus on your mana curve, put a priority on grabbing removal spells, and confirm you actually have a good plan for how you're going to beat your opponent even without Moonmist.

If you realize you're drafting a deck that is fundamentally unsound (as opposed to a deck that is a little bit worse than you had initially intended because you didn't get one of the best cards for it), you need to rewind a bit and figure out exactly what's wrong with your deck.

    What are you willing to give up?

When your decks just aren't coming together properly, but you stubbornly draft in the same way you would if everything was going according to plan, you're going to end up with a lot of helpless decks.

Spectral Flight | Art by Johann Bodin

You don't want to go into battle sporting a deck that's just inferior, across the board, when compared to the decks you know you are going to face.

But as long as you don't lose sight of the fact that your draft isn't going well, you should still be able to put together a deck capable of winning—so long as you are willing to make some sacrifices.

This might mean exposing yourself to two-for-ones with your Spectral Flights. Or you could accept the fact that your mana isn't going to be great in order to play with twenty-two really good spells.

Or you might just cut the majority of your high-end cards and your best defensive cards in order to build the most aggressive deck you possibly can.

Whatever path you decide to take, just make sure you have an idea of how you are going to win. This might require you to get a bit "lucky," but that's far better than resigning yourself to eventually losing with your directionless deck.

After all, if you can't see yourself winning with your deck, you probably won't.

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