Removed From Game – Title To Follow

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This week, Rich Hagon invites you to put your brain into high gear, let the scales drop from your eyes, and discover how you can beat the online Pros at their own Drafting game. If you can’t work out why they pick what they pick, why your good cards don’t seem good enough, and why the same players win time after time, Rich’s visualisation techniques can help. In a reversal of his normal articles, this week features a little humor and a lot of thought. So thinking caps (and Draft caps) at the ready. Good luck.

Two things have come together to make this article. Me, and my laptop. Alright then, two other things. First, as you may recall from my last two letters from the frontline, I’ve been playing a great deal of Magic Online lately, specifically drafting like it was going out of fashion. Second, I’ve started running Friday Night Magic at my new local store, and that means that I’m coming into contact with a group of players who have never drafted before. Combine these two happenstances, and you get someone who has questioned a lot of apparent truths about drafts, come out the other side, started winning a lot online, and now proposes to spout pearls of wisdom on the topic until three weeks on Tuesday or the start of the Eagles at the Patriots, whichever comes sooner.

When examining possible titles for this article, I narrowed it down to “Suckers,” “Be Careful What You Wish For,” and “The Road To Damascus.” Here’s why any of these might have been good:

“Suckers” – we live in a world of instant gratification, and the Magic world reflects that. I guarantee that the most popular article in StarCityGames.com history would be called something like “100% Better Magic in 30 seconds” by Kenji Tsumura. It would include the definitive decklists for all the major formats, with card by card sideboarding plans. It would contain zero Magic theory, zero humor, zero tournament reports, zero asides – or parenthetical devices – , zero allegories, zero anecdotes. Instead it would distil Magic improvement in minimal words and maximum osmosis. This is especially true on the Premium side, where the Spike urge is presumably even higher than elsewhere in the world of Magic journalism. So why “Suckers”…? Because articles by Pros on draft, whether it’s here or elsewhere, are very useful for certain specific things, but are absolutely not going to get you better at drafting per se. And yet you queue up in your proverbial millions to read “Drafting with X,” Nick Eisel and more.

“Be Careful What You Wish For” – You see, most of the time we give you what you think you want. You’ll know how highly I value the writing of Zvi Mowshowitz, and his oft-quoted line about people liking it when they’re thrown a fish. One of the reasons that Zvi was such hard work to read is that he rarely threw people the fish. Instead, he taught people how to fish, and along the way, with people like Mike Flores, virtually defined what fishing was. So let’s talk about Pick Orders – that is to say, the correct order that you should take cards in Draft. I’ll give this next bit a paragraph all to itself, so that you’re not left in any doubt.

Pick Orders are Rubbish.

Now, they do have some uses. If you have no clue whether Oblivion Ring or Woodland Guidance is a good spell, Pick Orders of the Pros can tell you that Oblivion Ring is the better card, most of the time. Over at the mothership, Quentin Martin can, and does, tell you the exact order of all the Blue commons that he picks for Draft. If you look at enough Pick Orders, you will quickly establish that Bog Hoodlums, Spring Cleaning, Rootgrapple, Dawnfluke, Hunt Down and others are regularly right at the bottom of the pecking order, and if you’re running quad Dawnfluke to combo with your Hunt Down, wow do you ever need a Premium account. But the bit about Pick Orders that never gets explicitly stated is this:

“These are my average Pick Orders which gives you a rough approximation of how highly I value the cards, given that everything else is equal.” Let me tell you an important truth, perhaps the most important truth you can ever learn about Drafting:

Everything else is never equal.

Given this fact, there are always going to be things to consider above and beyond Pick Orders, however expertly and thoughtfully put together.

“The Road To Damascus” – I know you just love religious allusions in my column, and this refers to a Pauline conversion. The future St.Paul was travelling on the road to, you guessed it, Damascus, when he had a religious experience and was subsequently set on his path towards the big JC. The scales fell from my eyes when I started Drafting a lot online, and suddenly it all started to make sense. So today I want to share with you a different way to approach Drafting, and a way of viewing the Draft that almost nobody will tell you about, at least not until it’s too late. And that’s how I arrived at the actual title for this week’s offering:

Removed From Game – Visualising The Draft For Fun And Profit

Alright, time to come with me on a journey of the imagination, a journey that begins on the night before Pro Tour: Geneva. If you’re one of those people that values all Magic cards highly and can never own enough of them no matter how rubbish they are, you will find it hard to imagine an enormous room where thousands of cards are left discarded on tables, waiting for either the cleaning lady to put them in the bin, or someone like me to give them a good home. This is what every Limited Pro Tour is like. See, the Pros don’t have a lot of use for actual Magic cards, other than the 75 they’re currently packing. When they Draft, generally only the Rares are taken, and perhaps in the early days of the new set a few choice uncommons will also vanish. As for the rest, who wants to take away another 100 commons that will never see play? Now imagine that you play in a league back at home, and are looking for cards to build your latest deck. So you pick up the first pile and sift through, looking for the cards that are missing from your deck. You find a Faerie Trickery, which is good because you’ve only got three, and you move to the next table. This time you find a Pestermite, another card for your Faerie deck. At the third table, there’s a whole bunch of Blue commons, and although you’re not entirely sure that you want Ringskipper in your deck, there’s no harm in having him around. Then you hit gold. In a pile of random commons someone has left a Cryptic Command. You snatch it eagerly from the pile. I mean, how lucky is it that you’re the first one who wants this excellent Rare?

Now let’s narrow things down. Instead of having tables littered across an enormous playspace, the piles of cards are all on one table. There’s eight of them, and coincidentally they all have 15 cards in them. There are a bunch of other guys already looking through a pile each, and you take the last one. You’re all after the same thing – great cards that you don’t currently have for your deck. Because you’re all nice and friendly, you’ve agreed that you’ll each only take one card from the pile, no matter how many cards you’d like to keep. That way everyone has a shot at getting the good cards. Once you’ve all chosen a card, you all take a step to your left and start rifling through the next pile, looking for another card. Once you’ve walked all the way around the table once, you find yourself looking at the same pile you started with. You’ve got 8 cards safely tucked away, and now there’s only 7 to choose from. It doesn’t surprise you to find that your fellow scavengers have stripped the pack of most cards that are traditionally “good,” but you have eclectic tastes in deck design, and still manage to acquire a few more cards for your deck before the piles finally vanish.

Not that you’re getting dizzy or anything, but when you move to another table, conveniently set out with another set of 8 piles of 15 cards, you decide to walk round the table the other way, before reverting to your original parade as you scavenge your way through yet another pile of 15 cards that gradually fall away down to nothing. At the end of the process, you’ve all got 45 cards. Some of them you chose over many other powerful cards. Some of them were the only good card left in the pack. Some of them were never ever going to make your final deck. Some of them were highly situational, and might just sneak in after Game 1 if their narrow speciality demands it. And some of them scared you so much that you took them just so that none of the other guys could play with them.

I know that you know that I know that you know that this is a description of a Draft, but for the fact that instead of 8 people moving round the piles, we’ve come up with the startlingly efficient improvement of moving the piles round the players, thus saving fat sweaty people throughout the world unnecessary extra mileage. What I hope you’re starting to see is the idea of you and your fellow players being treasure hunters or scavengers, picking through other people’s leftovers to succeed.

We’re almost done with the imagining, but I have one more exercise I’d like you to engage in before I reveal the dirty little secret that gives the best players the Edge when it comes to Draft. So here’s what I want you to do. We’re in the world of Lorwyn Standard, and we want to put together a Mono-Blue Control deck. It might be that you’re already thoroughly familiar with Guillaume Wafo-Tapa design for this archetype, but whether you are or not you can still play along. What would such a deck contain?

A bunch of Counterspells – Opponents have an annoying tendency to play spells. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could counter them? We want a range of counters, probably costing between 2 and 4 mana, and we might have a couple that cost more if they do something special.

Some Card Drawing – most of the time our Counterspells are going to trade 1 for 1 with our opponent’s spells, so basically that keeps us even. In order for us to get ahead, we need to generate some Card Advantage, and drawing more cards than our opponent can accomplish this.

Dealing with Permanents – we’re being optimistic if we think that we’re going to counter every single spell, so we need something to deal with the pesky permanents that make it through. Maybe that’ll be some kind of nullifying card (Glimmerdust Nap, Zephyr Net?!?!) or maybe we can use a land like Desert to deal with cheap attackers that snuck under the radar, or we can just bounce them and make our opponent run them into a counterspell second time around.

Lots of Land – nothing makes a Wafo-Tapa happier than laying a land and doing nothing else for turn after turn after turn. You can only do that if you have lots of land. Lots of land, and preferably some land that generates more than one mana when it needs to (storage lands, Urzatron lands etc)

Win Conditions – sooner or later we may get bored with drawing cards, bouncing permanents, countering spells and laying lots of land. We need something that we can play that they can’t deal with. That means Teferi, Mage Of Zhalfir, or maybe that means Guile with Pact Of Negation backup. Either way, if we’re in control when we cast them, they say “we win.”

So what has this got to do with Draft? Simply this:

Every winning Constructed Mono-Blue Control deck is essentially the same as every other winning Constructed Mono-Blue Control deck. Every winning Constructed Green-Red Aggro deck is essentially the same as every other winning Constructed Green-Red Aggro deck. Every winning Constructed Combo deck is essentially the same as every other winning Constructed Combo deck.

Within a Draft Format (i.e. triple Lorwyn, or Rav-Gld-Dis) every winning deck of a particular archetype is essentially the same as every other winning deck of that archetype. If this doesn’t seem like that big a deal to you, here are some of the ramifications. Imagine that you were trying to build that Mono-Blue Control deck. You look at the first 15 cards you’re given, and consider them in the light of what you’re trying to accomplish. Deeptread Merrow? That doesn’t draw me cards, or counter a spell, or deal particularly effectively with permanents. Cryptic Command? Wow, that’s amazing for what I’m trying to do, countering a spell and drawing a card or bouncing a permanent… It’s so good, the Constructed version runs four of them.

Of course to start with you may not know which winning deck you’re trying to build. While we’re here, if this whole ‘archetype’ thing is puzzling you, here are some examples:

Kithkin aggro
U / W control
B / R Goblins
U / x flying men
Big Dumb Green Treefolk and friends
U / W mill i.e. Judge Of Currents, Summon The School, Drowner Of Secrets

This list is by no means exhaustive, but the truth remains: for each one of these there is a “blueprint” for a winning deck. The best players know what these blueprints are for each and every one of the sensible combinations of colors and/or tribes out there, and can recognise which of them they should be aiming for. What most average players miss out on is the fundamental idea that they are actually trying to fit together the 23/24 slots in a given deck, right from the first pick, whilst occasionally trying to deny crucial bits of the puzzle from the opposition.

I’m going to put this into practice by using Kithkin as an example. I’m using the little folk for two reasons. First, I’ve had a lot of success with them online, and can therefore speak about their archetype with more experience than some of the others. Second, Nick Eisel article on them should be fresh in your mind. It’s an excellent article, and I’m delighted to find that my evaluations of most of the cards are very similar to his, which is quite encouraging. I urge you strongly to go ahead and read or re-read this now, since I will assume it’s fresh in your mind from here on in.

When we look at what any winning deck looks like, two things structurally define it. First up, there’s how many creatures there are as opposed to spells. Secondly, there’s what everything costs, and this is absolutely crucial to the success of your deck. Nick has already looked at the possible benefits of pairing the Kithkin with each of the other colors. For our purposes, we’re going to explore the visualising process for a straight-up no-frills White deck. What would such a deck contain?

Cheap efficient monsters – If we’re going to kick our opponent’s faces in, we need men, and we need them quick and efficient.

Removal – if they make a properly large roadblock, it would be nice to clear the way for our weenie horde.

Finishers – sooner or later our Plan A of man-swing may stop being quite so effective. At that point, we want a way to achieve the final 2-8 points of damage.

Tricks – if our guys are smaller than theirs, perhaps we can use a trick to make our guys bigger than theirs. That would be good.

Knowing what your deck doesn’t do is almost as important as knowing what it does do, not least because it allows you to accurately assess its weaknesses, and also the strengths of the opposition. Let’s look at what our deck doesn’t do:

Draw lots of cards – Fathom Trawl gets three action spells into an opponent’s hand. We don’t have access to that kind of ongoing power, or even to an Evoked Mulldrifter.

Recur – although there is a very specific exception to this (Galepowder Mage plus Kithkin Harbinger gives us a roughly analagous effect) the fact is that Warren Pilferers generates advantage for our opponents, and Makeshift Mannequin is also a beating. Let’s not discuss what Wort, Boggart Auntie and Tarfire could do to us.

Kill everything – unless we have got lucky with a Rare Austere Command, we’re not clearing the board. Many other decks have access to this. First you’ve got the guy who actually did open Austere Command and put it in his Control deck, or even as a reset button in his own aggressive strategy. Then there’s the Black mage with the uncommon Final Revels, which against us will be effectively Wrath Of God. Finally you have the Giants player who makes a Lowland Oaf followed by Thundercloud Shaman, and the Shaman is also uncommon.

We now have some idea of what we need for our deck to function, and have identified some of the threats that we are likely to face. The next stage is to visualise some games to see how we’re going to win and/or lose. This feels like a pretty strong opening:

Turn 1 guy, ideally Goldmeadow Stalwart (uncommon) or Goldmeadow Harrier (common)
Turn 2 guy, Kinsbaile Skirmisher, pump the Stalwart, in for 3.
Turn 3 in for 4, make Kithkin Harbinger, stick Wizened Cenn on top.
Turn 4 make Wizened Cenn, make 2nd Skirmisher, in for 9.

At this point our goldfish opponent is on 4 life. You’re possibly thinking that our opponent won’t be a goldfish, and that highlights our need for selective removal.

Turns 1 and 2 as before.
Turn 3 Oblivion Ring their Woodland Changeling/Deeptread Merrow/Adder-Staff Boggart, in for 4.
Turn 4 make Kithkin Harbinger and Goldmeadow Harrier.
Turn 5 Wizened Cenn plus Kithkin Greatheart.

You’re now starting to see the next problem. We got rid of their first blocker, but presumably we’re heading for Bog-Strider Ash or Cloudcrown Oak territory, and that’s a lot of body to get through without Neck Snap or Crib Swap or the lovely Oblivion Ring.

Given that we have no significant card draw or recursion or board sweepers, 1 for 1 trades our not our friends. Why is it that 1 for 1s are bad for us and good for our opponents? Because every 1 for 1 gets them closer to the point at which they can gain Card Advantage. If we trade our Kithkin Greatheart for their Mulldrifter, they’ve already got two bonus cards in hand. We’re losing out. If we trade our Goldmeadow Stalwart for their Adder-Staff Boggart, they’re one turn closer to Thundercloud Shaman or Final Revels. Even worse for us than the please-avoid 1 for 1s are the disastrous situations where we get 2 for 1’d. BR decks are the worst for this, since they have two of the more irritating commons in the set against our deck – Mudbutton Torchrunner and Hornet Harasser. Either of these regularly generate 2 for 1s, and if they’re followed up by either Warren Pilferers or Makeshift Mannequin we’re in a lot of trouble. What we’re looking for therefore are ways to improve our combat chances once our unopposed forces start to meet resistance. This may mean Triclopean Sight, which is fine. It ideally means Surge Of Thoughtweft, which is one of the most important cards in the deck. It can generate multiple 1 for 0s, and that equates to Card Advantage, plus of course it’s one of the few sources of drawing a card that we can have.

Suppose for a moment that the ground is sufficiently clogged up. What to do? Amazingly enough, to the air! Thanks to the double White in their casting cost, Plover Knights are not in high demand elsewhere in the Draft, so we can expect to find at least one. Much more important is the two-for-the-price-of-one Kinsbaile Balloonist. This guy has multiple benefits. Let’s start with the super-obvious – he flies. Let’s move to the still fairly obvious – he gives flying to something else. And now let’s finish with the far less obvious – because of his “gift of flying” ability, he is a 100% must block kind of guy. That means that your Triclopean Sight or Surge Of Thoughtweft is almost guaranteed to do bad things to your opponent, especially the one who (ho ho ho) leaves 4 mana up in your turn to cast Sentinels Of Glen Elendra during combat.

Okay, we know what we want to achieve. Here’s the recap:

Lots of cheap men.
Some flyers.
A bit of removal.
A way to turn 1 for 1s to our advantage.

We’ve now reached the point where we can look to actually “plug in” our spells, and the way to do that is to look at the deck by casting cost.

1 mana – If we’re lucky, we’re on the play and our opponent won’t have a turn 2 play. That means we get three bites at the cherry to establish our early dominance. To miss out on turn 1 would be unfortunate therefore, and means that we’re looking at two main options, Goldmeadow Harrier and Goldmeadow Stalwart. Clearly the Stalwart is the better turn 1 play, but later in the game the Harrier gets to effectively nullify a big bad blocker. Since the Stalwart is uncommon, you’re not often going to be faced by the problem of how many you want in your deck. Although the first one is great turn 1, their usefulness quickly fades, so I suspect you don’t want a third floating around. One card that you absolutely do want in your deck at the one slot is Runed Stalactite. Assuming that you’ve got one Harrier and one Stalwart, the Stalactite is a nice addition to your 1 drop slot. As we’ll see, you’re likely to be playing multiple Kithkin Greatheart. Early in the Draft (i.e. first set of boosters) you’ll end up taking them because they’re Kithkin and they’re fine and you might end up pairing with Red for Giants, and late in the Draft (packs 2 and 3) you’ll end up with them because they’re Kithkin, they’re often the best available, you want to overload the 2 drop slot for several reasons (more later) and you’ve already got your Stalactite. Turn 1 Stalactite into turn 2 Greatheart into Skirmisher giving the Greatheart +1/+1 and equip the Stalactite is a 5/4 first striking Greatheart on turn 3. That’s not being traded with. Either they lose their first guy, or they’re taking 5. Ideal number at 1 mana: 3-4.

2 mana – This is absolutely the heart of the deck. Kinsbaile Skirmisher is your perfect Turn 2 after a Harrier or Stalwart, and we’ve already explained why the Greatheart is an ideal common. Cenn’s Heir has the potential to be good, but generally watches his friends get killed and then sits there looking ugly and expensive, a bit like Joan Collins. (Although as far as I know Joan Collins never watched her friends get killed.) At uncommon, we have Knight Of Meadowgrain and Wizened Cenn. The Knight has two abilities, one of them irrelevant (lifegain) and the other super-good (first strike). As for the Wizened Cenn, at first glance he’s pivotal to our deck. In reality, against almost every opponent the Cenn reads, “target opponent discards a removal spell of his or her choice.” With the Cenn in play you’re heading towards being unbeatable, and therefore the Cenn is almost never in play. Do yourself a favor – don’t ever attack with it unless you’re certain they can’t kill it. Watching people throw games away by running the Cenn into a Neck Snap and then multiple favorable blocks against now smaller men is not good. On the spell side, we’re really looking for Surge Of Thoughtweft, and almost every successful Kithkin deck needs one. Apart from that, we’re looking at a couple of Rares that might fall into our laps. Hoofprints Of The Stag can give us long-term legs, and more importantly wings, but not only is it Rare it is eminently splashable. On the other hand, Militia’s Pride is a Rare that fits in very few other decks and can be picked quite late. Since we’ll be turning men sideways with maniacal zeal, having bonus men is a great plan. Yes, this card appears on average once in every three or so drafts, but when it’s in the pool you have a good chance of getting it. Now the number of 2 drops you want is very very high. Why? Because in addition to wanting to cast one on turn 2, you’re going to probably attempt a pair of them on turn 4. If your turn 4 is Wizened Cenn and theirs is a Masked Admirers they’re not in the worst shape. Add a Kinsbaile Skirmisher to your Cenn and they’re struggling to keep up with their single spell on turn 4, no matter how good it might be. One final word on the 2 slot. If you can snag yourself the basically crap Rare Dolmen Gate, you’re on a winner. This is the deck in the format that can use it perfectly. Ideal number at 2 mana: 7-10.

3 mana – there aren’t many monsters that we’re interested in. Neither Kithkin Healer nor Springjack Knight have much to recommend them. Avian Changeling is the top common, while Kithkin Harbinger is an uncommon that you should be able to pick up late, since, like Militia’s Pride it isn’t very good in other archetypes. Who wants a 1/3 for 3 that doesn’t do much? There are no uncommons, and since every man woman and dog will pick Mirror Entity if they see one, you’re looking at a near-empty cupboard on the monster side. For spells, this is where you want your removal spells to be. At common you have both Oblivion Ring and Moonglove Extract, although obviously you’ll have to take these early. At uncommon there’s Crib Swap, which as Nick Eisel points out isn’t necessarily the best, because it still leaves a guy behind. In a perfect but realistic world you’re going to have 3 removal spells, an Avian Changeling and a Harbinger at 3. Ideal number at 3 mana: 4-6.

4 mana – Kinsbaile Balloonist is key to our deck, and if we can get a couple we can be pleased, since that goes a good way to establishing our finisher credentials. Neck Snap is obviously good, but perhaps not as good as it initially appears for us. If we’re using it turn 4, we spend our entire turn casting it, one of our monsters doesn’t get to deal damage, because we can’t cast the Snap until our guy is blocked, and because it’s our entire mana resources for the turn, we’ve actually lost two monsters in play ready to attack turn 5 in exchange for keeping one of our guys onboard and one of theirs away from the table. Sometimes it’s better just to run in your first three guys, lose one of them to their good blocker, deal some damage, and make two more two drops. Neck Snap can then do its thing on turn 5, when presumably they’ve generated something even better to put in your way. 4 mana is also where the Rares tend to live. There are four that are great for us. We’re unlikely to see Ajani, and anyone who opens him and takes him is well on the way to putting together the very deck we’re trying to concoct. Brigid, Hero Of Kinsbaile makes their blocking decisions next to impossible, and coupled with a well-executed Surge Of Thoughtweft she represents game over. Galepowder Mage has spectacular synergy with the uncommon Kithkin Harbinger, and in the unlikely event that Cloudgoat Ranger makes it way to your pile, three Kithkin a turn is an utter beating. Finally we have Thoughtweft Trio, a card that, like Militia’s Pride, is quite likely to get round to you, seeing as it requires not only double white but a Kithkin to champion. In an ideal world, you’ll champion your Kithkin Harbinger, since if they can find a way to kill the Trio, they will. Ideal number at 4 mana : 3-5.

5 mana – Once we get to five mana, we better have a good excuse for playing whatever we put here. Certainly 5 is going to be an entire turn, and leave us no room for tricks during combat. At common we’re looking at Plover Knights. This is clearly our finisher, since even stuff like Ethereal Whiskergill goes down to the first strikers. I’m not a huge fan of the Changeling Hero for this deck. Is he a finisher? No, by the time he comes down the ground is usually clogged. Does he evade? No. Is the lifegain relevant? Almost certainly not. We’re not in a race, we’re looking to put our opponent in the bin. Lifegain means nothing. Worst of all, we don’t get a guy into play. Instead, we basically say “target Goldmeadow Stalwart or Kinsbaile Skirmisher gets +2+2 and has summoning sickness.” We get to do this at a cost of a whole turn. Not good. You may be thinking “how come Nick Eisel likes it then?” I hope you’ve spotted that Nick’s 3-0 deck is a very different beast to our archetype. Yes, it features Kithkin, but has plenty of controlling elements, and in that kind of deck a 4/4 lifegainer is fine. Here, not so much. Needless to say, Cloudgoat Ranger should be added to your pile at warp speed. It overloads on guys, can be a 5/3 flying finisher…clearly awesome. Ideal number at 5 mana: 2-4.

Land – one of the ways in which we can generate a modicum of card advantage is by running fewer land than our opponents. A big Green treefolk deck might want 18 land. We might get away with 16, and that does give us the opportunity to draw slightly more action than the opposition. Another useful addition to our deck – and forgive me Aaron Forsythe wherever you are – is the basic land that come into play tapped hideaway lands. Yes, I was wrong, and my Windbrisk Heights are no longer propping up the dodgy table in the garage. Here, even with Harriers and Stalwarts, you generally have a window on turns 1 or 3 to lay a hideaway tapped, with an excellent expectation of getting it resolved if it’s white, and a good chance if it’s Green, since Surge will generally take you over 10 power of guys.

As I trust you’re starting to see, there’s a ridiculous amount of preparation that goes into knowing what the ideal deck looks like. This has just been about one archetype, and there are at least another dozen or so that have their own key cards, overloaded mana costs, hosers, late pick slams and so on. If this all seems a bit daunting, and you want to go ahead and pick the ‘best’ cards, fine. Just remember that all the best players know to within a hair’s breadth what each and every one of these ideal decks looks like. It’s one of the reasons that simply looking at a 3-0 deck won’t help you very much, unless you understand which slot in which archetype the cards are trying to fill.

To finish then, here’s a Kithkin draft from during the week. I’ll talk a little about the picks as we go along, and we can see which holes in the deck get filled.

Pack 1

Galepowder Mage
Militia’s Pride
Nettlevine Blight
Plover Knights
Sentinels Of Glen Elendra
Surge Of Thoughtweft
Cenn’s Heir
Inkfathom Divers
Familiar’s Ruse
Cenn’s Heir
Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
Captivating Glance
Exiled Boggart

Two outstanding Rares lead us off, and Plover Knights already gives us a finisher. Because of the Militia’s Pride, I’m thoroughly committed to the many men, turn them sideways plan. This makes Cenn’s Heir reasonable, although I’m not overjoyed to have them. After pack one I can definitely pair up with Blue, since Sentinels Of Glen Elendra, Inkfathom Divers and Aethersnipe are all fine cards. They do however cost 4,5 and 6 respectively. We’ll have to see what happens.

Pack 2

Changeling Hero
Fathom Trawl
Neck Snap
Harpoon Sniper
Avian Changeling
Goldmeadow Harrier
Kithkin Greatheart
Kinsbaile Balloonist
Kinsbaile Skirmisher
Lairwatch Giant
Broken Ambitions
Amoeboid Changeling
Aquitects Will

At 6 mana, Purity is a real stretch, guaranteeing that I have to play at least 17 land. On the other hand, Purity is, er, Purity. I take the Changeling Hero in part because he’s a nasty roadblock at the point where we’re just about to win, and if we get a bunch of Greathearts together, that’s a neat synergy. Neck Snap is my first removal, the Avian Changeling is perfect for my 3 slot, and Greatheart plus Skirmisher add two more to my 2 drop pile, which I want to be nice and big. One thing to note with this sort of deck is that it regularly comes together in the final pack, largely because everyone is busy pursuing their own strategy by this point, and as we’ve noted, plenty of our cards don’t really belong elsewhere.

Pack 3

Cloudgoat Ranger
Oblivion Ring
Goldmeadow Harrier
Wizened Cenn
Kithkin Harbinger
Plover Knights
Goldmeadow Stalwart
Kithkin Greatheart
Neck Snap
Bog-Strider Ash
Kinsbaile Skirmisher
Triclopean Sight
Judge Of Currents
Flamekin Brawler
Triclopean Sight

Wow. That’s a beating of a final part of the Draft. As you look at the list, you can tick off all the slots that we’re filling with each passing pick. Finisher… Removal… 1 drop with late-game use… Please kill me Crusade… the Engine with Galepowder Mage… another first strike finisher… the perfect 1 drop… another possible 3/2 first striker… impossibly late removal… another great two-drop. That’s before two Triclopean Sight which would make many decks of this type. Here’s what we end up with:

1 mana — 3
2 mana – 9
3 mana – 3
4 mana – 4
5 mana – 4
6 mana – 1

Any regrets? Well, one Triclopean Sight in and Purity out would probably, to quote Adrian Sullivan, be the Classic rather than the Romantic play that I went with. The temptation to run the massive guy was too much. About the only things that are missing from the deck are a Runed Stalactite to help my Kithkin Greatheart swing for lots on turn 3 plan, and a hideaway for a bonus card.

Although I can tell you that this deck did, of course, go 3-0, that’s really not the point, and if you think it is then I’ve failed miserably. If I’ve done my job right, you can look at my decklist and see exactly what function each card serves in the deck, and this functionality is something you should know about every card in your deck every time you draft. Yes, there are three rares in the deck, but if Galepowder Mage was a second Kinsbaile Balloonist and Militia’s Pride was a Triclopean Sight and Purity was a Runed Stalactite I would still expect the deck to monster its way past most opposition. And as I’ve pointed out, two of the three rares (the Galepowder Mage being the exception) have limited use to others at the table.

Let me offer you one more visual analogy before I go. The eight drafters are all trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle. All the generic pieces are in the centre of the table. There are a few corner squares, which everyone needs four of. There are rather more outside edges, which will give your jigsaw its shape. And there’s a bunch of stuff for the middle, including lots of blue for sky and water, some greens and browns for grass, trees, someone’s dress etc, and loads of other colors and tones to put together your masterpiece. To begin with, most of you may not know what jigsaw you’re trying to complete. That’s one of the reasons the corners and the edges go early, because everyone needs them, and as long as it’s got an outside edge it’s going to fit in your puzzle. Then people start grabbing as much as they can of particular colors, so that they can create their landscape, their portrait, their still life or their impressionist work.

The winners in draft are the ones who identify the puzzle they’re trying to complete early and often. The winners in draft are the ones who know exactly which pieces fit in which picture. The winners in draft are the ones who know which outside edges can be safely ignored until later because nobody else will want them. The winners in draft are the ones who can see that there aren’t enough brown pieces to go around, so make sure that they get almost all of them. The winners in draft are the ones who know that Modern Art may not be to most people’s taste, but that you can still make millions from it. The winners in draft are the ones who understand their history, and the full inventory of what artistic tools are available.

Be the winner in Draft.
Know the pieces.
See the picture.
Paint your masterpiece on the red zone canvas.

Next week, your cut-out-and-don’t-keep guide to the World Championships.

As ever, thanks for reading…