Limited Lessons – Signaling

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With mere days until the Morningtide prerelease, Nick Eisel rounds out his Lorwyn-only Limited articles with an insightful piece on signaling. In triple Lorwyn drafts, there are a number of ways to signal intent to your neighbors, and Nick runs us through a bevy of examples from the Drafting With Tiago series. If you’re looking to improve your Limited game, this is the article for you!

With the prerelease coming up this weekend I decided to do something a bit different to conclude my LLL articles. I didn’t quite get around to covering all of the tribes, but I feel like I managed all of the important ones. It’ll be a good series to look back on once players are trying to figure out how Morningtide fits into everything.

One thing I’ve always noticed about the average drafter is that he only lives on the surface. He tries to make the best pick for his deck and moves onto the next pack without really giving a lot of thought to the actual depth involved in a booster draft. See, the thing that most people miss is that you actually have a lot of control over the guy you’re passing to in the first and third packs, and you can often influence him in such a way that you know what cards he is taking… you can set yourself up to benefit from it in the second set of packs.

This article is going to be a look at the other things you should be thinking about when you’re in a draft besides the obvious question of “What am I going to pick?”

Before I get into some actual examples, I want to go over the different kinds of signaling and how they apply in LLL.

Color Signaling

This can happen a number of ways. Sometimes you find a pack that is completely skewed towards one or two colors and you can use this to your advantage (especially in pack 1) by attempting to avoid those colors and stick everyone else into them.

A second way you can color signal to your advantage is by taking a slightly weaker card over a better card in the early picks because you can be sure it will put your neighbor in that color and hopefully pay off later.

Lorwyn is a little different than past formats in that taking one card can effectively signal three different colors, since the tribes are spread out so much. For instance, taking a Silvergill Douser could represent future possibilities in Blue, Black, and White. Taking a Stinkdrinker Daredevil will usually only represent Red and White. Hopefully you get the idea.

Bomb Signaling

This is another way you can force someone to do what you want in the early picks of a draft. Say, for instance, you just hate drafting Goblins and you want your neighbor to be doing that so you can benefit in pack 2. Go ahead and pass that Mad Auntie for Lash Out or Oblivion Ring (which just may be a better pick anyway) or even something less. It doesn’t even have to be that drastic, as you can take a good card over a bomb if you know you can force your neighbor to do your bidding for the rest of the draft. Sometimes this won’t pay off, but the majority of the time if your thinking is correct there is a chance that you will gain value in the end by making a sacrifice like this.

Tribal Signaling

This is the most obvious way to signal in Lorwyn. Shipping a Lys Alana Huntmaster, Smokebraider, or Faerie Harbinger are all good examples of attempting to force someone into a tribe of your choosing.

Another way you can receive tribal signals is when you get a card late that gives you the go ahead to switch into that tribe because if anyone was drafting it they certainly would’ve picked the card higher. I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples to help understand this point. If you get a late Summon the School in pack 1, you’d better change gears and get into Merfolk.

Now that I’ve outlined some of the basics of signaling in this format, I want to give some examples of actual packs that illustrate these principles.

By the way, all of the pack lists I’m using come from Drafting with Tiago articles, in case you were wondering. I considered searching all of the drafts for the best possible packs to use for this article, but I decided to just randomly select them instead to make it more realistic.

The majority of the examples are going to deal with early decisions in a draft because I think it’s obvious that if you get a Smokebraider 7th pick you should probably consider moving into Elementals.

Pack 1
Silvergill Douser, Avian Changeling, Bog-Strider Ash, Eyeblight’s Ending, Mudbutton Torchrunner, Springleaf Drum, Oakgnarl Warrior, Bog Hoodlums, Protective Bubble, Fire-Belly Changeling, Skeletal Changeling, Elvish Harbinger, Goldmeadow Stalwart, Flamekin Spitfire, Mistbind Clique

The first thing I’m going to do to make this easier is to eliminate the chaff from the pack and take a look at what we’re actually dealing with.

Silvergill Douser, Avian Changeling, Bog-Strider Ash, Eyeblight’s Ending, Mudbutton Torchrunner, Springleaf Drum, Fire-Belly Changeling, Skeletal Changeling, Elvish Harbinger, Goldmeadow Stalwart, Flamekin Spitfire, Mistbind Clique

Usually this will help narrow down the list a lot, but in this pack I only removed a couple of cards. Remember, the point here isn’t only to determine the best pick, it’s to determine what kind of signals I’m sending by what cards are being passed.

This pack is particularly annoying simply because there are so many good cards, and it’s hard to tell what the guy next to me will take since a lot of it depends on what he picked first in this situation. It’s worth noting that this happens a lot and there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. What matters is that when you have a chance to force someone to do something, you capitalize on that and make the pick that best sets you up for later.

Getting back to the pack at hand, there are tons of signals in this pack and no possible way to narrow them down by only taking one card from the pack. Tiago went with Silvergill Douser here, which I can agree with because it offers the most long-term potential and isn’t as binding a pick as Mistbind Clique.

Pack 2
Tarfire, Whirlpool Whelm, Leaf Gilder, Adder-Staff Boggart, Wispmare, Streambed Aquitects, Dawnfluke, Spellstutter Sprite, Black Poplar Shaman, Elvish Eulogist, Wings of Velis Vel, Ethereal Whiskergill, Knight of Meadowgrain, Glen Elendra Pranksters, Galepowder Mage

This pack is a good example of color signaling, since it is extremely slanted towards Blue and White. It’s very obvious that the right pick is Galepowder Mage and what you should realize is that after taking it is that you should be headed directly into WG or possibly WR. The guy to your left will usually take Streambed Aquitects or Tarfire second, and my advice would be to try to get into Green if possible and draft the GW aggro deck I talked about in my last strategy guide.

Pack 3
Peppersmoke, Lys Alana Huntmaster, Consuming Bonfire, Wispmare, Stonybrook Angler, Thieving Sprite, Flamekin Brawler, Facevaulter, Warren-Scourge Elf, Blades of Velis Vel, Cenn’s Heir, Fodder Launch, Merrow Reejerey, Lys Alana Scarblade, Rings of Brighthearth

Finally I found a pack with the most important type of signaling in LLL, tribal signaling. In this pack the best two cards are Merrow Reejerey, Lys Alana Huntmaster, and Fodder Launch, with the Launch being the weakest of the three in terms of something I’d want to first pick.

The best pick on its own is the Reejerey, but an argument can be made in this pack for taking the Huntmaster as there is a Stonybrook Angler that could possibly put someone two seats downstream into Merfolk and screw up your pack 2 chances. Since it’s the first pick of the draft it’s fine to go with either pick, but what you want to do is remember what you’re passing, or take screenshots of it if you’re online, and keep it in mind as later picks come up. The guy to your left is usually taking Huntmaster, Consuming Bonfire, Fodder Launch, or Angler here, and you can narrow it down by what you end up passing in later boosters.

Pack 4
Lash Out, Kithkin Daggerdare, Herbal Poultice, Avian Changeling, Warren Pilferers, Lowland Oaf, Wellgabber Apothecary, Aquitect’s Will, Mournwhelk, Zephyr Net, Scarred Vinebreeder, Scattering Stroke, Boggart Harbinger, Makeshift Mannequin, Epic Proportions

This pack struck me as interesting because Tiago took Lash Out instead of Epic Proportions. I’m not so sure this is correct, as Proportions should win almost any game when it comes down and sticks for a turn. Personally I’d take Proportions, but I do agree it’s a close pick.

The main issue I want to address with this pack is the issue of Bomb signaling. If you pass Epic Proportions it is going to get picked second and cement that person directly into Green. This is something of which you can take advantage, and here’s how. So your neighbor is headed into Green, and the most likely color combinations involving Green in LLL are GW and GB by a long shot. So what you want to do is get into some kind of UR Elementals, UWr Merfolk, Giants, whatever. The point is that you want to attempt to avoid Green and Black, and to some extent White. You can usually go into White anyway since you’ll be taking Merfolk or Giant cards and they don’t overlap with the cards a GW drafter will want.

Knowing all of this, I like the Lash Out pick as long as this thought process was exercised and you plan to maximize later picks because of it. Tiago did exactly this in this particular draft, and went into Merfolk.

Pack 5
Moonglove Winnower, Plover Knights, Whirlpool Whelm, Leaf Gilder, Adder-Staff Boggart, Wispmare, Streambed Aquitects, Spellstutter Sprite, Spiderwig Boggart, Flamekin Brawler, Tideshaper Mystic, Changeling Hero, Imperious Perfect, Elvish Harbinger, Cryptic Command

This pick is multi-faceted. Perhaps online you should just take Cryptic Command anyway because it’s great in Limited and also worth some tickets. If you are going from a complete signaling perspective though, you should take Imperious Perfect and force your neighbor into Blue. Cards with intensive casting costs like this Command, or something like Dread or Hostility, are a good way to force someone to do what you want. The reason for this is that most players fall in love with their first few picks and want to stay in those colors no matter what. This is especially true if you pass them a color intensive bomb because they will do anything to stay on color and play said bomb in their deck.

Pack 6
Woodland Changeling, Kithkin Greatheart, Mulldrifter, Footbottom Feast, Lowland Oaf, Lignify, Wellgabber Apothecary, Gilt-Leaf Seer, Boggart Birth Rite, Zephyr Net, Bog Hoodlums, Prowess of the Fair, Elvish Harbinger, Shriekmaw, Guile

This pick is extremely obvious, but it again illustrates the principle in the above pick that you will totally clear the way to do what you want by passing this pack. Obviously you’re going to take Shriekmaw, and the two people to your left are completely screwed in that the next two cards are both Blue. This will leave them fighting over Blue and you should get plenty of good Black, Red, and Green in the second set of boosters, so you want to plan accordingly.

I’ve run through a bunch of examples of things you can think about besides what you’re taking from a pack. A lot of these decisions occur in the middle of drafts as well, but there doesn’t seem to be a ton of merit to writing about them because each situation is going to be unique. The best thing you can do to improve in this area is to always be watching in the middle and later picks for cards that can give a clue as to which tribes are being underdrafted and if you should consider switching into them. Aside from that, you want to consider what your neighbor is likely taking from each pack you pass, and how you can use that information to maximize your own draft in future picks.

I hope this article was a nice change of pace, and I look forward to diving into Morningtide next week. Have fun at the prerelease this weekend!

Nick Eisel
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