Cuber’s Anonymous – Talented Mr. Roto (Part 2)

Justin returns to rotisserie this week! If you’re interested in learning the ropes of the rotisserie draft format, then hold your hand out—Justin is dropping knowledge.

Welcome to Part 2 of my series about rotisserie drafting in cube. Part 1 can be found here, where I discuss the comparisons between fantasy sports and rotisserie drafting, as well as my experience hosting rotisserie drafts with my cube. That’s where you would look if you want to learn from my mistakes/successes in running a draft, and this article is where you would look if you want to win a rotisserie draft. This is going to be a lot of information to digest, so sit back in your favorite chair/toilet/couch, grab your favorite eats (we cubers in the southeast prefer Bojangles), and maybe find some pen and paper—we’re going to school people.

For all twenty-seven of my readers—counting myself, I’m a big fan—the intent of Part 1 was to try and open the mind of those of you that don’t partake in fantasy sports or, let’s be honest, any kind of thing that halfway links itself to exercise—and running to the pairings board doesn’t count. I received less feedback than usual, which is even a step down from the multiple “You’re wrong and extra dumb” responses I’d prefer to silence. So today, we talk about Magic: The Gosh-Darn Gathering, with minimal sports references thrown in. Minimal—not zero. There is still time to turn back, but I already have your click, so you may as well keep reading.

Without further ado and asides: how to become lé rotisserié master.

Know Your Enemy and the Cube

So, you know you’re setting up a GoogleDocs rotisserie draft with your friends Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey. You’ve decided to draft Doc’s cube, which you’ve drafted a couple of times in person. Got it—drafting a cube and you know who your fellow drafters are. Moving on!

Hold the dwarf up. You may as well start throwing darts at names of cards on a dartboard, because that’s how prepared you are—I have heard you can end up with a 4-3 record if you draft like that, though. How many cards are in the cube? Is it powered or unpowered? Does it have any special themes that aren’t in standard cubes? Does it have hate cards for specific archetypes? What’s the curve for each color look like? How much breathing room does aggro have? How are multicolored cards classified? There are even more cube-specific questions that I’m not listing here, but I think you get the idea. If you can’t answer a question like that about the cube you’re drafting by researching yourself, ask the cube owner. He should be proud of his cube and more than happy to answer those kind of questions for you.

So now that you know a thing or two about the cube you’re drafting, take some time to think about the drafters you know. If you’re lucky enough to be in a draft with people you know, then you have a leg up. Think about not only the type of decks they like to draft, but how they think. You know Grumpy is a miserable dwarf-hole, so he’ll hate that Necromancy right out from under your nose right smack in the middle of his R/W aggro deck. Happy is just the opposite—he doesn’t see the value of hate drafting anyone’s cards, and probably won’t hate draft a Wrath of God even in the face of him drafting twenty-five straight creatures. Bashful probably won’t fight you over being the fourth blue drafter, and Dopey is probably going to pick Birds of Paradise in the first round. Doc is your real threat, since he owns the cube and knows its intricacies better than anyone else, even if he isn’t taking as much care as you are in preparing. You don’t know Sneezy or Sleepy, so try and ask some of the other drafters that do. You’ll probably find out enough to make some general guesses.

Knowing what a player is likely to draft helps you all along the roto, but you will have to constantly reevaluate when your guesses are wrong. As you sit between Doc and Sneezy, you may think they’re going to try for super-aggressive decks, but when they start in on Ramp and Tinker strategies you need to rethink what they might want. But figuring out what they want isn’t as important as figuring out what you want. Which brings me to:

Pre-Draft Decklists

“But how do I know what’s in my deck? I haven’t even drafted a card yet!” Slowly, padawan. Remember the part where I told you to grab a pen and paper? Now is the time to put it to use. You should have about three or four decklist ideas scribbled out somewhere accessible while you draft. The pre-draft decklists can go a long way in helping you formulate your deck, as cards you’re targeting are picked (probably lots at first) and navigate the later portions of the draft as you’re looking for deck-specific cards. The best way to do this is to make a list of cards that are the de facto “power cards” for whatever cube you’re drafting. And I don’t mean power in the Alpha sense, but power as in they are above power level in regards to the average level of all cards in the cube.

These cards are the archetype-defining ones, and picking them early does a couple of things: it makes a clear statement of what general archetype you plan to draft to your fellow drafters, and secondly you actually get to play with the cards, since if you wait on them they’ll be long gone. Even Dopey, who is gonna gleefully pick Birds of Paradise in the first round, is still probably snapping up that Survival of the Fittest in round two. He’s Dopey, not Moron.

Lemme guess—you’re too lazy to put together such a list, even if it means being one step closer to winning the draft. Luckily, you can reference this list I put together of common cards I think are ones to build your deck around. Don’t say I never did anything for you! This list isn’t in order, and if you’re not playing with Power and the like, start the list at Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

The Power Eight (Sorry Timetwister—Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, either)

Library of Alexandria
Sol Ring
Mind Twist
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Umezawa’s Jitte
Stoneforge Mystic
Survival of the Fittest
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Goblin Guide
Recurring Nightmare
Liliana of the Veil
Demonic Tutor
Vampiric Tutor
Mana Crypt
Mana Vault
Grim Monolith
Strip Mine
Dark Confidant
Armageddon / Ravages of War
Sulfuric Vortex

Whew! That’s a pretty extensive list. These are the cards you can expect to go in the first four rounds, when deck identities are coming together. The pre-draft decklist lets you know your plan once you get a couple of these cards.

There is a small caveat, as you won’t have the opportunity to draft specific cards based on where you’re sitting. In an unpowered draft, if you’re sitting in the sixth seat, go ahead and cross Jace off of your list. You want to write lists that have around two or three of these cards working together, then filling out the next ten or fifteen potential picks so you have the groundwork for a deck. Now repeat this process two or three more times with another combination of cards—preferably different colors, so if one or even two people have a similar plan as you, you haven’t wasted your preparation time. This way you have a Plan A, B, and C; when someone takes Fastbond and someone else takes Tinker, you can confidently draft Recurring Nightmare and know exactly where you’re going. Put down your potential picks, in the order you want to be drafting them. One of the most important things to remember when drafting in the early rounds is to…

Target Two-Card Combinations

Bitterblossom and Skullclamp. Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull. Crucible of Worlds and Strip Mine. Survival of the Fittest and Recurring Nightmare. Jace and Islands. These are just the main combinations, but there are several more that are less powerful cards but work particularly well with each other. Most involve a card you can get later in the draft, like Greater Gargadon and Armageddon, or Bloodghast in your Entomb deck. This section probably seems obvious, but I can’t stress enough that you want an ultra-cohesive deck in a format like this, and getting cards that are even more powerful in combination help the overall power level of your deck.

Change on the Fly

The bad news is the other drafters aren’t going to be playing nice. You were hoping for a nice combo of Fastbond in the first round and Strip Mine in the second, but Sleepy grabbed Strip Mine and Crucible of Worlds on the eighth seat wheel. So you have this Fastbond, but now there’s a hole in your pre-draft list where Strip Mine used to be. Sometimes it’s right just to bump up the next card from your list into the queue, but other times a card you were counting on getting disappears before you pick, and you’d planned for it to be the backbone of your deck. What do you do now?

Time for a new decklist—yes, another one. Take whatever cards you’ve already drafted and put those down first, as you probably want to use what you already have if it’s powerful enough to be drafted early. Now build a decklist using those cards and move forward. This may have to happen two or three times a draft, so don’t get discouraged and continue evolving your deck. Chances are at least 50% of what you had in your initial decklist still fits with what you’re trying to do, so toss away the 50% that doesn’t work as synergistically with your finalized picks. Again, people will be after some of the same cards, so try and pay attention to what people might want/need based on colors drafted so far, or holes that need filling. This back and forth will continue throughout the entire draft, so get used to fighting with one or two other drafters.

The worst is when someone blindsides the draft by jumping into a new color or strategy seemingly out of nowhere—unless, of course, that person is you. If you want to jump into a color, or had planned to all along, make sure you make a statement that says, “I’M DRAFTING RED NOW, YOU STOOPID IDIOTS!” like drafting a Sulfuric Vortex, Goblin Guide, or Lightning Bolt. I wait as long as possible to reveal my second/third color if I can help it, to give the illusion that the other drafters in that color don’t have to worry about someone stealing a piece of their delicious, burn spell pie.

I always change my deck when I’m on the side of the wheel, meaning the draft is going right and I’m in the 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th seat, or the left when I’m in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th seat. Luckily for you, I have a really fancy name for this! I call it…

Drafting to the Left/Right

I’m looking into copyrighting it. This is one of the most important—if not the most important—part about doing a rotisserie draft. Knowing what each deck wants to your left and to your right should determine your pick order every single round. Every. Single. Round. After round ten, paying attention to what each drafter wants, or at least what color of cards they want, becomes crucial.

Let’s make it easy and assume you’re smack in the middle of a draft, both in seating and in round number. You’re in seat four and it’s going into round eleven of forty. The draft is going right and you have Sleepy in seat five, Dopey in seat six, Doc in seat seven, and Sneezy is on the wheel in seat eight. You’re fighting for blue and red cards, with Sleepy and Doc both in blue to your right and only Grumpy in red to your left. Each round, if you’re deciding between a blue or red card, you need to go blue when the right is moving right, and red when the draft is moving left. Even if one is clearly better than the other, don’t pick the one that doesn’t match the direction of the draft. No one to your right wants Koth of the Hammer, even if it is clearly better than Repeal. This should become habit to automatically think like this, no matter how much you think you’ll remember or convince yourself that you need to take one now due to its level over the other card. Write it down on your draft sheet, rearrange your pick order, and just make sure you go by this rule. The amount of value you pick up incrementally over the course of the draft could easily lead to a whole extra match win by itself.

If someone drafts the card you wanted and doesn’t play it, then you haven’t really lost anything. Does that mean that you shouldn’t hate draft? Let’s talk about that.

When to Hate Draft

I have another rule, and that is don’t waste time hate drafting until 75% of the draft is done. It’s almost always better to draft a card you’ll only side in rather than waste a valuable pick, even if it’s a card you feel you can’t beat. It’s not like Grumpy is going to care that you took his Keldon Marauders—he’ll happily pick the Scalding Tarn you need but he can actually use and thank you for the wasted pick while he smashes your face in with the Plated Geopede he took several rounds later.

Once you have your maindeck forty and at least two cards to side in for every matchup (some will overlap), then you’ve essentially completed your draft. That doesn’t mean for you to go on a hate drafting spree, but feel free to snatch up Manic Vandals or Kor Sanctifiers so your opponents have less ways to deal with your Vedalken Shackles.

When hate drafting, never hate draft anything that doesn’t interact with your best cards or general game plan. Don’t worry about Banefire just because you have counterspells, know what I mean? To use an example from earlier, if you’ve drafted mono-creatures, by all means draft the rest of the sweeper effects so they can’t be used against you.

The Power of Seating

Where you sit is going to have a determining factor in the style of deck you’re able to draft, along with your personal preference. In the early rounds, before people have settled into their decks, the most powerful cards will be taken regardless of color. Sometimes you want a card that you think is the twelfth most powerful card, like Mind Twist, but in seat three, you’re next pick is the fourteenth in the draft, so Mind Twist is likely to be gone. My advice? Draft the Mind Twist if that’s what you really want.

In fantasy football, I call this Get Your Man. Let’s say you’re a Saints fan and you have the fourth pick. Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and Arian Foster have been taken, and you see your beloved Drew Brees sitting there. Sure, you could draft LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles and get your RB position tight, but you know if you pass Brees (who you have rated tenth) he’ll land on someone else’s squad. Get your man. Going against conventional wisdom and drafting an awesome player that is only slightly less awesome than guys your passing isn’t hurting you as much as people will say it does.

So back to the (Magic) rotisserie draft. You’re in seat three, and Sol Ring and Ancestral Recall have both been drafted. Time Walk and Black Lotus are the next best cards, but you love some Mind Twist. Pull the trigger! You’re still getting one of the powerhouse cards, even if you’re passing a “better card” for it. Now don’t go crazy and think, “Man, I love me some Wild Nacatl, let’s draft him in the first round!” as seven other drafters probably don’t want the Nacatl until much later. Try and think like your opponents, so you can pick cards you want but not so early that you’re passing on cards that are better for your deck. When you successfully think like your opponents, you’re on your way to…

Identifying the Metagame

Metagame may seem like an odd word to use here, since you’re likely only drafting with seven people and we’re talking about Limited. The difference is that you will know the exact contents of your opponent’s decks, at the very least in games 2 and 3. To win the draft, you’re going to have to have a record of 6-1 or better, so if you see even two decks that you just can’t beat, you’ll need to metagame against those decks. In an average rotisserie draft, you can expect these numbers in decks:

Half of all decks will have access to blue mana

A fourth of all decks will have access to red mana

There will be an artifact-centric deck

There will be a graveyard-centric deck

A little less than half of the field will have actual aggro decks

A fourth of all decks will be true control decks

Half of all decks will be midrange

Obviously these numbers don’t add up to eight, so you can guess that there is some crossover. An important thing to remember is that whatever you draft will be included in the above stats. So if you start in on blue in the first round, keep in mind that you’ll be competing with three other drafts for blue cards. Conversely, if you try and draft red, you’ll only be competing with one other drafter for red cards. Also, these are averages from about ten rotisserie drafts, so don’t flip out if there is a third person that splashes red for Ajani Vengeant and Lightning Helix.

I sometimes like to write down what I think my opponent’s maindecks are going to look like when you’re about thirty picks in. This will help you figure out sideboard cards that need to be drafted, and how you’re going to need to sideboard to have a better percentage against their best cards and general strategy.

When the draft is all said and done, put together your listed maindeck and goldfish a bit to get a feel. Sometimes you’re off a card or two, and this will help you figure it out a little bit before the actual event, when everyone’s decklist should lock in—usually on the honor system, but don’t scumbag your friends and pre-board against them.

Whew! That’s all for today kiddos. This should be an excellent guide to navigating a rotisserie draft, whether it’s your first or your tenth. I have even more rotisserie goodness to share with you, but that will have to wait until next time. Part 3 will cover my personal drafting preferences; I’ll break down some completed roto drafts, and go over team strategies like the Goat Drafter, a team archetype breakdown, and seating strategies. If there’s something that you’d like me to go even more in depth on, or think there might be something I didn’t cover, let me know in the forums! I will happily reply there, or potentially add a section to Part 3 if it’s something I missed.

I don’t have a deck picture this week, but I do have links to a video podcast I recently co-hosted over at Seems Good Radio with my good friend Michael Mirrielees. The five parts (all under ten minutes except Part 1) are linked below for your convenience. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to work together more in the future, and when we do I’ll be sure to link everything cube-related either here or on MTG Cube Drafting on facebook. All following links are to the Seems Good Radio YouTube homepage.

Part 1 Here

Part 2 Here

Part 3 Here

Part 4 Here

Part 5 Here

Thanks again for reading! I hope you’re enjoying learning about my favorite cube format. Hit the forums and let me know one way or another, and be sure to check out how the Custom Cube Project is coming over at its Facebook page!

Justin Parnell

@JParnell1 on Twitter

Official Facebook Cube Drafting Page

Ali Aintrazi and my Custom Cube Project Facebook Page