Thran Utopia #35: Limited Information
Last week I made a promise to revisit Intihuatana this week. Turns out that’s not entirely true. I will give you a deck, but it’ll have to wait until next week. You see, the moment this article goes up is around the time me and my friends will be drafting Innistrad. I love drafting; I love it so much that the last time we drafted, it was Rise of the Eldrazi! Yes, it’s sad, isn’t it? Still, every draft is such fun and a great way to revisit old Magic memories and make some new ones. We’ve opened two foil Akroma‘s during Time Spiral drafts (back-to-back), and last time we had a foil Emrakul and a Kozilek. To make a long story short: this week will be about draft: draft in general, Innistrad in particular, and how my group tends to draft.
I wrote down a few random thoughts on a piece of paper when I came up with the idea for this week. So I decided to just go down my points one by one, each one a little story.
It takes a lot to force me into red.
Red is my least favorite color in Innistrad. The best common is Brimstone Volley and after that, there’s a whole lotta nothing. Geistflame and Pitchburn Devils are the only other red commons I’d want to play, and that’s already kind of a stretch. In the rare and mythic department it gets better, but counting on your red rare/mythic savior is beyond realistic. Balefire Dragon, Olivia Voldaren and Devil’s Play are all perfect red cards and all, but I feel the (un)common backup is lacking. Brimstone Volley is even horribly splashable, so you are less likely to see that one pass.
In short, I’d like to stay out of red if it’s possible, or whenever I can. I’ll gladly pick another card over another red card, even when the red one is slightly better (I won’t pass a Devil’s Play in favor of a Stitched Drake, don’t worry), thereby giving my neighbor the idea that red is open. Innistrad red as a base color? I think it’s an illusion.
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White is the place to be.
Just like I would like to avoid Red, so do I pray White gets past me. I feel White is a very, vert strong color and it could easily have half the table fighting over it. For instance, it has both Faceless Butcher and Flametongue Kavu at uncommon! During a test-draft, I faced the choice between both of those cards, and that is a very ugly one. Both cards are usually the top cards in the pack, meaning that the next player in line might very well scoop up the card you passed. While I acknowledge the power of White, I will try to avoid two- or three-man fights over that color. But if the White comes my way unimpeded, I won’t hesitate to take it.
What to do when signaling barely works.
We all know the stories. “I took the green card ’cause it was the only good card of that color, so my neighbors where left to fight over the black cards.” This is known as signaling: let them know that there is nothing to gain in green for them and that they’d better take cards from another color. In our group, however, this is rarely how it works. The only signals that work are when you take the only card of a color out of a pack.
Our color signal receptors are less sensitive than those of regular drafters, and that’s okay. Last draft, it turned out that there where three blue drafters sitting next to eachother. We are generally attached to our first pick, and stubbornly hanging on to that means that people can signal all they want, you’ll still try to make your first card work.
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Not everyone reads everything.
This point is in part responsible for the above one. When you don’t read about a draft or don’t prepare, you enter the draft with a blank state of mind. Pick orders are unknown to you. Again, this is okay. My approach to a draft is to read about it, watch draft vids, and test on CCGDecks.com. I don’t do this to get an edge – mostly I want to know how the format feels and what colors speak to me. When someone who beats me didn’t prepare, they chose their own path and rode that to victory. While my mind is clogged with supposed wisdom, theirs is just filled with creativity to make an idea work, whether it’s an accepted draft strategy without them knowing (i.e. UW flyers) or not. It’s refreshing.
I remember a draft where one guy (I think the format was Time Spiral-Planar Chaos-Future Sight) kept passing me good blue and green cards. It turns out he was snatching up all the black he could get his hands on, and he won the draft undefeated. I don’t think he even dropped a game. Conventional wisdom isn’t always right – I would never have drafted such a deck, but the fact that I still remember it means that the deck did what it had to do – winning – in an out-of-the-box way. I’m glad my friends show me the ways I thought were bad. I wish I could follow my own path a bit more, but I’m too busy securing a safety-net underneath me.
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Burning Vengeance is an Intangible Virtue in disguise.
Great, I have your attention again, now haven’t I? Both cards are so-called build-around-me’s: cards that encourage you to draft them and consequently change your entire draft plan to enable them as much as you can. I haven’t ever really drafted around a card. I remember picking up a Muraganda Petroglyphs in the aforementioned TPF draft, but it was really to late to do anything with it.
I would love nothing more than to be able to make a Burning Vengeance-deck work. The thing is, Vengeance expects you to go all-in, prioritizing flashback cards. When they don’t flow rich, you end up with a mediocre deck. Intangible Virtue, on the other hand, requires you to go all-in on a strategy that doesn’t look half as bad if it fails. You still draft strong creatures, now picking higher the ones that make tokens.
Another card that is a lot safer is Invisible Stalker. I’m open to building a deck around him, which is again not as dangerous. He wants a nice curve and some equipments, neither of which is a dangerous goal to pursue. Burning Vengeance rewards you greatly for succeeding with that deck, but requires drafting on such a different level that the stakes are very high.
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The effect of dual-faced cards.
This is by far the thing I’m most curious for. How will this work in draft? We’ve decided that, just like in official tournaments, the DFC’s are common knowledge at the beginning of the draft, and so is picking ’em. I feel this is a great new take on signaling, as you can deduce what people are playing should they pick ’em.
Your right-hand neighbour snatches up a Bloodline Keeper? Maybe you shouldn’t pick that Victim of Night in your pack, then. But it also works the other way around – why didn’t they pick that powerful Civilized Scholar? What sick rare must he have opened, then? I’m gonna love seeing how this all plays out. DFC’s add information to a subgame (the draft) of Magic that is not about fighting over colors, but coöperating with your neighbours.
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The danger of a seemingly underwhelming textbox.
Some cards look like they’re not as good as they really are. Me and my group occasionally suffer from what I’d like to call the ‘textbox smokescreen syndrom’. This is what happens when you undervalue a card based on their text box, forgetting (or deprioritizing) the mana/body-ratio the card has. The most recent time I did this was with Murder of Crows. It is an Air Elemental, which is perfectly fine to begin with. I’ll gladly take cards with those stats. However, my initial response to the card (which was when I saw it on the official spoiler) was disappointment because of the text box. I didn’t think highly of it even though I like both looting and free repeated triggers.
When I found Murder of Crows in my prerelease pool, it was only then that I discovered what an utter beast the card is. I just (wrongfully, even) wrote the card of because of the card box. I remember once getting passed a late Maelstrom Djinn. “Sheesh, he dies in two turns. How bad is this card?” (This was my initial reaction, but somehow I regained my sanity and gratefully picked it up.) Well, it’s still good enough to deal ten damage to your opponent in those two turns!
The consequence of this is that some cards have a textbox you’d call underwhelming, forgetting the fact that it could very well be just the body that counts. Or, in the case of Murder of Crows, the abilities are also legitimately insane. Always question your first reaction.
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Dipping your toes in Blue.
It should come as no surprise that Blue is my favorite color in Magic. Most of my decks either have blue or resemble playing with a Blue deck. And for some reason, I keep end up sleeving Islands for most of my draft decks, too. I suspect part of this is the fact that some of my friends just don’t like blue. These two facts are a beautiful set-up to a great Blue draft and subsequent deck. On top of that, Blue cards are hard to evaluate if you aren’t very familiar with the color. Blue oftentimes suggest a less aggressive approach, sometimes even going for a completely different angle. In any other block, Armored Skaab would be horrible. In Innistrad and with the right deck (and mindset), Armored Skaab turns into a double-function cornerstone of the U/x graveyard deck. It holds the ground very well and his ability resembles drawing cards (in the right kind of deck).
Again, and I want to stress this, I love my playgroup. They all are great guys and each have different Magic qualities. Their level differs, but they all know their way around the draft format and are versed in the world of cardboard (and other offline games). Are they stupid for passing good Blue cards? About as stupid as I am for passing good Green cards, really. Drafting in my group is all about playing with what you’re comfortable with. When your favorite color isn’t the easieast way to go, you end up with a highly unconventional deck that could very well take down the whole thing. When you know the preferences of each other, maybe you could use that to your advantage. Not only am I more inclined to take a blue card, but when I know one of my neighbours would really love the green card I was also considering, I’m better off passing the Green one and taking the Blue one. Again, draft is all about coöperating, and knowing your fellow drafters adds a whole other angle to drafting the same way DFC’s do.
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Will those darn kids start respecting the dead?
Ah, kids. Living in the present and ignoring the past. It turns out, ‘those kids’ will have to be careful with what’s buried, because in Innistrad, the dead are just as important as the living. I talked about it above, about how Armored Skaab is such a good card in Innistrad. Who’d would ever want to mill themselves? The answer to this question, at least in Innistrad, is you! (Possibly.)
Just like not all of my fellow drafters are familiar with Blue, so too will some of them not know how to really draft a graveyard-based deck. Knowing an important axis like this of the format could reap benefits, as not all of your co-drafters will know how to do that profitably. I’m hoping for a general undervaluation of all things dead and me trying to grave-rob my way to victory. (Saying this makes me think of H.P Lovecrafts ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’, which in turn gives me the chills every time I think about it.) Let’s hope I’m the only one lest things get ugly.
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Three or four?
My final point is about the amount of packs we’re going to draft. We are currently (currently, as in the time I’m writing this, not the time you will read this) discussing the pro’s and con’s of adding a fourth booster to our draft. We are not with eight drafters, but with six. 3 x 8 is the same result as 4 x 6, so the amount of boosters is the same. Each player, however, gains another 14 cards to build their deck with.
I’m one of the proponents of the fourth pack. You’re not scrabbling for playables as with 3 boosters (in the case of 8 drafters) and you have more time to find out what’s open, and even more time to hate some more cards. No, drafting with 4 boosters is not the default, but neither is drafting with six people. Whavetever happens, though, I’m down with it. 3 packs will be a lot harder to draft, while 4 packs give you more time. We’ll see what happens – I’m going to have fun no matter what!
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Tune in next week for Intihuatana, and maybe I can find a way to recap the draft in some way. I’m thinking about noting all my picks, but knowing myself, I’ll probably forget (or scrub out). See you next week!