Perfecting Your Picks

Jeroen returns for his usual Wednesday column, answering questions from tournament players and casual spellslingers across the globe. Today sees the Dutchman tackle the subject of Draft picks. What are the cards you should be seeing in picks five through eight? How do you maximize your splash mana? And which pro player has the worst taste in music? All this, and more, available with a simple click of the mouse…

First, let me thank you all for the great response I had regarding my last article, as the questions have started pouring in again. However, my Block testing has reached a highpoint at the moment, and I had to make time in my busy testing schedule to bring you this article. As soon as this is finished I’ll be on my way to Charleston, SC, hoping to finally shed this curse of mine and post a passable performance once more. Me and my team – Terry Soh and Ruud Warmenhoven – haven’t had the greatest preparation, due to distance difficulties as well as us getting kicked off our playtest team by one of the worst people to ever walk the earth. I still feel we have a good shot and decent decks, but I can tell you I will be rooting against a certain favored team of two Frenchies and a Dutchie, for another bundle of reasons…

On we go!

This week’s first question comes by way of A Held:


What do you look for in a 5th — 8th pick? What do look for in 9th-plus picks? How do you generally approach the tail end of a draft? Any idiot can make first picks, it’s the rest that make or break a deck. Are there any particular things you look for? I would be interested to hear if you have any thoughts on the part of the draft Nick Eisel doesn’t bore us with.

The reason writers like Nick Eisel don’t talk about these picks is that, in general, you will have very little choice in what you get. Often there will only be one or two cards left in your colors, and then you are simply looking for anything that is playable. The 5-8th picks, of course, are very important, but it is hard to generalize a rule about what to take. First, look for the most powerful card, especially in pack 1, and go for that. If there isn’t a whole lot left, you take the card that’s best suited for the style of deck you are trying to draft, and pay close attention to the kind of mana curve you are planning to set up.

While this is just as difficult as taking those first picks, it is not something you just can give a bunch of rules for and then you know. It takes practice, and that is the only way you’ll really be able to do it well.

The next question was sent by Scott Clark:

Hi Jeroen,

I’ve been playing in the Dissension online release leagues. In one of my leagues I built a GWU deck, splashing Red for Galvanic Arc, Cackling Flames, and Seal of Fire. Relevant cards in my deck to understand my situation are (among others) five White mana sources, two Mountains, a Civic Wayfinder, and Utopia Sprawl. It’s around turn 6 or so, and I have two Forests and two Islands on the board, and two White cards (Azorius First-Wing, Sky Hussar) in my hand.

Would you play the Utopia Sprawl naming White to start playing the White cards in hand, or hold onto it until you started drawing your Red removal cards and use it for that?

I ended up playing the Sprawl for White for my creatures, drawing my removal cards but not having the mana to play them. I ended up losing to a BRU deck with a decent amount of removal.

As you mention, there are pros and cons to playing that Sprawl on either color, and the most important question to ask yourself is this: do you have a game if you do not play it on White? To me, it seems like without playing the Sprawl on White you would not have been able to play any spells, and therefore would have been overpowered before any of the Red spells turned up to the party. In this case, it seems like there is no question that you have to play that Sprawl naming White, just to survive until you draw those Red spells, let alone a Red removal spell.

It would be a totally different story if your hand consisted of some Blue or Green spells in addition to those two White ones. Sure, the White spells you have might be completely awesome, but in general, you would have been better off playing to maximize having good mana, by playing less powerful spells that are still enough for you to survive.

This brings me to another point: it seems you splashed 3 off-color cards in your 4th color, which I feel is never either necessary or possible. Sure, the power can look tempting, but it will create situations like this where you will simply lose when you get screwed, where you would have been fine with any spell. I would never splash that Seal of Fire, unless I really had to, as it is pretty mediocre at best, and can be boarded in if you really need it. Of course, I can’t judge on that from here, as I am not sure what was in your Sealed cardpool, but it seems likely this is what happened to you. It can be tempting to go for power, but in Sealed, consistency comes out on top more often.

John Gardner raises the following question:

There has been a lot of discussion/argument concerning the timing/ulterior motive of the Coldsnap release. My primary concern is for game itself. I have been a PTQ regular for the past year or so, and I enjoy the competition, specifically when anticipating the evolving metagame. I am worried that trying to fit a summer set into the Standard rotation will rush people into new decks, and will mutate the metagame in an unhealthy way.

I’m of the opinion that we only get to play a certain format (at a competitive level) for a short time because of the influence of new sets, and I like to see formats develop fully. In contrast, that is one of the most appealing things about this game: it never gets stale, and the game changes every time a tourney happens. I understand that, as a professional, this may not have the effect on you that it does on the average PTQ player, but I was wondering if you have any comments/concerns about this?

To be honest, as a player that only prepares for the next tournament, and nothing in between, I don’t care how quickly formats change, as I never have to play with them for long periods. For us pros, any format tends to be new, as we are the guinea pigs that try new formats first, so we are used to it. Of course, having to hunt down new cards sucks, but it’s also fun keeping the format fresh.

The thing is, things like this happening rewards different kinds of players to those rewarded by a regular rotation. In a regular rotation, formats are around longer, and the players that need time to get comfortable with a certain setting are going to be ahead. When the format rotates quickly, it rewards deck-builders that are quick on their feet, catching on to new ideas, and they will love the new ideas.

This will by no means mean that there will be an unhealthy format, as unhealthy formats are created by broken cards and combo decks and not by rotation and new sets. The format will simply be different. Sure, this may mean that you yourself will be at a disadvantage, but others will be ahead. I don’t think there is any secret motive by Wizards in bringing out this set; they are simply trying to keep the game fresh while making more money.

Mark Lovin came up with the next one:

I have a question for you on a mulligan situation. It’s game 1 in the semis of your draft, and you have the following deck:

1 Conclave Equenaut
1 Screeching Griffin
1 Transluminant
1 Golgari Rotwurm
1 Gruul Scrapper
1 Silhana Ledgewalker
1 Scab-Clan Mauler
2 Minister of Impediments
1 Aquastrand Spider
1 Protean Hulk
1 Simic Ragworm
2 Sporeback Troll

1 Selesnya Signet
1 Fiery Conclusion
1 Galvanic Arc
1 Gaze of the Gorgon
1 Orzhov Signet
1 Hypervolt Grasp
1 Savage Twister
1 Debtors’ Knell
1 Rakdos Signet
1 Utopia Sprawl

6 Forest
4 Mountain
5 Plains
1 Azorius Chancery

If only things were so simple...

You’re on the draw, and your opening grip is Mountain, Mountain, Plains, Hypervolt Grasp, Transluminant, Galvanic Arc, and Sporeback Troll. What do you do?

The question you have to ask yourself is this: what happens if I draw that one card I need for my hand to be good? When you look at the situation here, you are looking to draw a Forest for your hand to be all that it is supposed to be. You’ll be able to survive for a little while, but will not have a huge amount of time, since the only spell you will be able to cast is the Galvanic Arc. Then, even if you do draw that Forest, your hand will be okay but not great. You don’t have a good curve, you don’t have the most powerful spells, and you don’t have great comeback cards in your hand.

This means that, to me, this is an easy mulligan. It would be different if you had the Twister in your hand – where you have a great comeback card if you draw that Forest – or if you had no Mountains but Forests, just so you can still develop your curve despite being color screwed. You are on the draw; you can bounce back from a mulligan pretty easily, so there really is no reason not to go to six.

I received this question from Richard Schneider, and it’s a pretty nice one with which to end today’s article:

I notice that some of the pros that write articles on StarCityGames end their articles by listing their favorite songs of the moment. I generally ignore these lists, but as someone who has traveled/lived with a lot of these players, you are probably forced to listen to the music they listen to on a pretty consistent basis.

I was wondering… which player has the worst taste in music?

Best. Image. EVER!

Luckily for me, and others around me (because my taste in music has been ridiculed on many an occasion by fellow players — “suicidal lovesongs” is what they said… hrmph!), the iPod revolution hit the gamer community early, even before it made it to the public at large. This means that, most of the time, you don’t really hear what other people listen to, and that’s a good thing.

As for the player with the worst taste in music? That’s a pretty easy choice… it’s Jose Barbero. The three-time Mexican champion simply loves authentic Mexican folk music, and he will play it as loud as he can, singing along all the while.

Having stayed with him for a month in Hawaii, I can tell you that there is nothing more awkward than sitting there watching him play poker with this music on. He’ll be singing at the top of his lungs, only interrupting himself by cursing at the computer screen or cheering at his poker play.

Of course, having Neil Reeves and Richard Hoaen there to make fun of him made it all worthwhile, and it made the trip awesome in general.

That’s it for this week. I’m off to South Carolina to enjoy myself and bask in the Southern hospitality. Wish me luck, as I am sure I can use it, and keep those question coming: [email protected] is the address you need!

See y’all next week.