“F*** you if you think you’re getting an Extended deck!!!!” — Randy Buehler to Sigurd Eskeland, immediately before Randy’s first DCI warning, Worlds 1999.
Some of you are rolling on the floor remembering this event. Some of you are wondering what I am talking about. And many of you are thinking about Randy f***ing Sigurd. For those of you in the third category, I’m afraid I can’t offer you specific help.
For those in the second category Sigurd and Randy had spent some time together as instructors at the short lived Magic Summer camp (I realize this sounds like an Osyp story, but it is all true). Upon return, it was a forgone conclusion that Sigurd would have access to all of CMU’s decks. Well come day 2 in the Rochester draft portion. Sigurd was sitting right next to Randy. They were friendly the whole draft. Then at the end of pack 3 it all came tumbling down. Sigurd took a Goblin Mason from Randy that would have fit into Randy’s Green/Red aggro deck perfectly and was of no use whatsoever to Sigurd. The quote was the result of this action. Temper’s calmed down, Sigurd apologized, and Randy wound up giving him an Extended deck.
What is the point of this little trip down memory lane (history books for some)? This is the type of disaster than can result from hate drafting in Rochester draft.
A Note on Team Rochester
I won’t spend as much time talking about Team Rochester as the other formats. Hate drafting is a lot more important in this format as you only have one opponent (the other team). Team Rochester Drafting is about min-maxing. For those of you not familiar with this term from Role-Playing Games (RPGs), let me explain.
Min-maxing in RPGs is about making sure all your party members have the weapons and armor and items that are most useful to them and will maximize their effectiveness. This manifests itself in two ways in Team Rochester. First you want to make sure whatever color(s) you split have the right cards going to the right people. Second you want to make sure you hate draft at the right times. A general rule of thumb is,”Don’t take a card for your deck that is significantly weaker than something going to the other team.” If you don’t feel confident in your card valuations, go ahead and use rarities as a guide.
It is also important to make sure the right person is hate drafting. Know the power of each deck and how many playables each person has. When that is equal, go by power of the draft choice. If there is a bomb Black card, but the only drafters acting on your team this pack are the Blue/White and Red/Green mages, there are two courses of action. 1) look for splash possibilities 2) have the person whose pick for his deck would be the weakest, hate-draft.
Hate-drafting in General
Don’t mistake the fact that the two draft formats are starkly different. Rochester is a lot more about maneuvering and cooperation (and in the case of single elimination 8-mans drafting against your first round opponent when all other things are equal). Booster, on the other hand, is about sending clear signals and reading those signals your opponents send.
I can’t deny that hate-drafting is a strategy. I just consider it a bad strategy. The general concept of hate-drafting is not unlike the lottery. You are making an investment for a gamble that is very unlikely to pay off. Randy Buehler (with no anger about the incident at Worlds, I’m sure) wrote an article about hate-drafting on the Dojo, shortly after Sigurd’s folly. It this article Randy explained the flaw in hate-drafting one card. Not only are the odds of your playing the person you hate slim, but compound those odds with the person actually drawing the card, then compound that with the odds of the card actually impacting the game, and finally compound that with the odds of it affecting the entire match.
I am no longer mathematically inclined enough to crunch these numbers, but I assure you, you aren’t getting correct odds to hate draft over something that might make the cut. You aren’t even getting the odds to take the card over a card that could possibly be sided in.
As if math weren’t enough of a reason to not hate draft, here are some format specific reasons why this is one of the, if not, the worst practices that is still seen at the top level.
Booster draft is about sending good signals. If you start hate drafting in booster draft, you will wind up confusing the person next to you and they could take a card in your color. This can be rough for you as they will generally be passing to you in a future pack. Matters aren’t as clear in Booster Draft as they are in Rochester, so make sure you keep your head on. Things move faster, and there is more room for misinterpretation. One early hate-draft could dismantle your entire plan.
Unlike in Rochester, there is an exception here. It’s late in the pack, with no playables left but one, and that one is not in your color. It is acceptable to take the card here. There are several reasons for this.
First of all, if the color is under-drafted at the table, you may be able to pick up this color and run with it even late in the first pack. Second, the drafter to your right likely won’t know he has been hate drafted when it is done so late. Third, odds are he has chose this as a color and taking this card won’t cause him to stray.
The exception to the exception of course is that, if the person is not in this color yet, and you want them solidly in this color, you have to pass the card regardless of how painful it is.
As mentioned earlier Rochester Draft is about maneuvering and cooperation. Cooperation is the easy one. When you pick colors, stick with them (all things being equal, See: Maneuvering). Rochester Draft is a long drawn-out process with the draft itself taking upwards of forty-five minutes. It requires a lot of patience and focus. Like it or not, there are going to be packs with no cards for you. Even early in the draft this will happen. Don’t abandon your colors just because a pack comes around without a pick for you. It can throw a whole side of the table into a frenzy. The result of this is that half the table will have powerful, streamlined decks and the other half with have three-color monstrosities.
Maneuvering is keeping your head in the midst of a crazy drafter. Alan Comer made a career as the type of drafter that could throw the whole table into a frenzy. When Invasion Block was around he was in hog heaven, because it was perfectly fine to play a five-color deck. Let’s say it is early in pack 1 and the person to your right has taken several colors so far. Good maneuvering will allow you to forecast what colors this person is going into and pick your colors accordingly. You can generally ascertain this by analyzing the relative power of the cards he has drafted so far and what drafters ahead of him are doing.
Hate-drafting in Rochester is generally unforgivable. Cooperation can easily be called Politics. And when you hate draft you have made an enemy at the table. In fact, you have often made an enemy for life. For instance, should I ever find myself at a Rochester Draft table with Nick Eisel again, I will surely hate draft him given the opportunity. He took a significant card from me in the top 8 of LA, and I have yet to exact any kind of revenge for it (I suppose I will have to wait at least a couple years to do so). [Revenge, like vichyssoise, is a dish best served cold. – Knut] Some people will tell you that in the last packs of the draft, it is ok to take a card from the person on your right, but I don’t buy it. Getting hate drafted is not something you forget, and while it may not bite you in that specific draft (though it certainly could), it may bite you in the future.
Hate drafting early, even if you plan on splashing the card (I’ll tell you why I hate splashing in a future article), is idiotic. You make an enemy that could easily kill you with a revenge draft later on. Revenge drafts are simply warranted hate drafts. Trust me, the Megatog you took from your opponent is nowhere near as valuable as the Solar Tide he may take from you.
Some Arguments in Favor of Hate-drafting
The one I hear most often is also the most gut wrenching”I just couldn’t bear to pass this card.” This is very similar to people who call bad hands in poker because they have a feeling. Magic is strategy, math, and luck. I have a news flash for people: You can’t control luck. Those lucky charms you bring to the table, those socks you haven’t changed, that scraggly beard with food from last Thanksgiving in it, the T-Shirt that is practically see-through now b/c you have worn it to every event since the qualifiers for PT: Columbus… they don’t change a damn thing. Luck is luck and you have nothing to do with it. Don’t make decisions based on what you think is your next card (except in hopeless situations in which only certain cards can win you the came). Make decisions based on the proper math and strategy.
How does that relate to the statement:”I just couldn’t bear to pass this card?” It is an example of making decisions based on a gut feeling and emotion, rather than proven strategy.
Gary Wise and I had a conversation about hate-drafting right before PT Chicago. I claimed that I would never ever under any circumstances hate-draft. He said claimed that my philosophy was flawed. The reasoning he gave was that if everyone adopted my theory, then hate-drafting would become a good move as there would be no retaliation. I still didn’t agree with this, primarily for the reasons outlined by Randy in his article.
In fact, the only reasonable argument I had ever heard in favor of hate-drafting was one I wrote in response to Randy’s article. The theory I put forward then was that if you are at a table and you feel you are the best or second best person at the table, and you are given the opportunity to make the deck of the next best (or better) player weaker, then it makes some sense to hate draft. There are several reasons for this. When you are drafting you are drafting to go 3-0 not 2-1 (generally). This hate draft may make one of your biggest obstacles weaker. Also, if you are the top players at the table then the odds of actually playing the person you are hating from increase.
I think this last point is only true of Booster Draft, as you don’t want to be making powerful enemies in Rochester as you will surely be drafting with them again someday.
In conclusion, never ever ever ever under any circumstances hate draft. The situations where it makes sense are so few and far between that it is better to live by the never ever rule. You make enemies, you make your deck weaker, and the gain is minimal.