(Editor’s Note: Nick Eisel is currently suspended from playing in sanctioned tournaments. He has not been compensated for this article. The details of his writing arrangement can be found here.)
Look around the various strategy sites on the web and tell me what you see. It’s the same tried and true patterns over and over again, no matter where you go. Pick Orders, Tournament Reports, and Constructed Matchup Analysis and singular Deck Analysis. The creative juices certainly aren’t flowing on a regular basis, as far as I can tell. Of course, there’s a simple explanation for why it happens like this: We’re only human.
We like doing things the same, time and again; the stuff we know people will like, the same crap they’ve become accustomed to reading. It’s just easier than sitting down and trying to come up with something that will make them say”Wow.” And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m just as guilty as the next scribe.
But I’m trying here. For the longest time, I was trying to come up with the”Next Big Thing” in terms of strategy articles – the next type of article that everyone will love and immediately add to their own writing arsenal. In a sense, something of an accomplishment that I could look back and say,”I came up with that type of strategy article, and look how popular it is now.”
It would be more than that, though, as it would embellish the entire writing community if it were a good enough idea – and hopefully broaden the way theory is presented in general.
So I would set aside time to concentrate and think about where exactly I would find this Holy Grail of article formats. Not just a single article, but an entirely new breed. Most of this thinking was done in the car whenever I had to drive somewhere, or at work whenever I found myself with some free time hanging around.
After weeks of this, you know what I’ve realized? Concentrating and thinking hard isn’t going to get me anywhere. If I’m going to come up with something, it will just be something that hits me like a light bulb going off in my head and then I’ll just take it from there.
Somehow, in a game of seemingly infinite dimensions, here I am – writing an article about trying to come up with an article. I feel like Seinfeld. Oh well, at least it’s a change from the usual drag, no?
I assure you, there is an actual topic here, and I guess I should get to the point before you decide you’re ready to click the Back button.
With all of the strategy articles of today abiding by the aforementioned tired and repetitive formats, how are we even sure we’re gaining anything by reading them anymore? I mean c’mon – you can read a million columns on pick orders, and if you still can’t grasp why something is better than something else or when you should stray from the pick order, then you’re nothing but a machine implementing data that may or may not be correct depending on the situation. You’re like the high school student, cramming for a Calculus final; you’ve memorized a bunch of numbers, but you still have absolutely no idea what they mean.
There are a lot of things that good Magic players possess that cannot really be described in words. You can call it intuition, or even pure talent, but it’s not something you can write about in a detailed”How To Go Pro” type of explanation. It’s not like Pick Orders or Decklists; it’s like an emotion. You know it’s there and you can describe what it feels like, but you can’t actually tell someone how to achieve it. It’s a shame too, since a lot of it is extremely important on the road to tightening your game, and it often has to be learned the hard way: Through painful mistakes.
So the real question becomes,”Why do we read Magic strategy articles?”
Seems like every time I pose a question that I’m also going to answer, the answer is simple. Maybe I’m the one who’s simple – who knows? Regardless, we read and try to improve on our game because we want to win.
That’s the most basic concept – and yet in the constant flurry of pick orders and deck designs, somehow it’s never mentioned. I’ll stick to my usual domain here, but instead of talking about specific cards, I’ll cover some of my strategies that focus on Drafting to Win.
The key to winning isn’t just reducing your opponent’s life total to zero or running him out of cards. The match starts long before you actually sit down at the table, and it all begins with the draft itself.
In order to give yourself the best possible chance of victory, it would only make sense that you would use any and all knowledge to your advantage. This is referring to an overall draft strategy that takes all factors of the draft into account and processes exactly what you should do in any given scenario.
Sorry if I’m not making sense here; I’ll simplify, since we all know I’m good at that.
There are a number of things that can happen or that you can do to glean some sort of advantage before you even get to the playing tables; the most obvious is that you can get lucky and open and get passed ridiculously powerful cards that combine to form Bomb dot dec. The next is to know”The Rule” for that particular draft format, and force those colors regardless of what you open. This doesn’t always work, but it is a plausible course of action.
After that, you can have a color combination that you’ve completely mastered, due to the sheer number of times you’ve ran the archetype, and just force that and hope to ride your overwhelming knowledge to your wins. And finally – and in my opinion, most importantly – you make”Bad Cards” work together to actually become more synergistic than a lot of the good ones.
Now’s where you start calling me crazy, telling me to go draft four colors and leave the real strategy to everyone else. Just kiddin’.
Before we get to the ladder, though, let’s talk some about drafting according to The Rule. I’m a firm believer that there is some semblance of this theory present in every block’s draft format. Basically, The Rule says you should force a certain color or color combo regardless of what you open, because the cards are so good in those colors that you will win anyway.
For this block, I believe the rule is to either draft Blue/White aggro, or Mono Black, or mono with a splash with mostly Zombies (The Mono Black article is coming next, I promise). The Zombie tribal cards are simply insane, and Blue/White is very deep and can easily be forced to good effect. Red is also a decent color, though you rely a lot on Onslaught for your power commons. The real rule in my mind is simply to not draft Green unless you are one of two or possibly three drafters at the most. Enough about this, though, as I’ve talked about it in my past two articles and it’s all old news.
Now we can move on to the good stuff.
It doesn’t take an idiot to know that if you’re getting playable cards for your deck in the late picks of each pack, your deck is going to be flooded with good cards and more powerful than decks that had to fight for their playables in the early picks. So the question is, how can you position yourself so that you get the goods late in the pack?
There are really only two answers that make sense, if you ask me: First, you can read the draft and put yourself in a color that is severely underdrafted; and second, you can make good use of bad cards.
When a new set comes out, players will often rate some of the cards much lower than they actually are – and that’s one way you can get the goods late. Once a format is defined, though, you have to change things up a bit if you’re hoping to get some late hits.
Onslaught block is a great place to implement this strategy simply because of tribal synergy. Cards that would normally be relegated to toilet paper duty like Goblin Lookout, Goblin Assassin, Heedless One, Wirewood Hivemaster, or even Cabal Slaver become powerhouses that you can easily wheel in the waning picks of the draft. The good thing about forcing one of the weaker tribes is that most of the key cards are bad enough that you can get them late.
I’ve drafted Goblins about ten times and I’ve won every draft but one. In these decks were cards like Goblin Assassin, Goblin Psychopath, and Goblin War Strike. If you force the deck hard enough, even the worst cards can become more potent than the cards that have been stamped playable by everyone else – for example, Goblin Assassin is ridiculously powerful with something like Warbreak Trumpeter. Remember, I’m not trying to tell you to go out and put Goblin Assassin in every deck you draft… But there are ways you can draft that will maximize the amount of powerful cards you have in your deck, even if some of those cards aren’t powerful in every deck.
It’s all about synergy. If you have Skirk Alarmist and Ixidor or Dermoplasm, it’s often correct to take Voidmage Apprentice or Titanic Bulvox over a card that is usually leagues above them. Building for synergy makes cards that are bad or mediocre into potential bombs, and can only help to increase the amount of drafts you win.
Certainly you have to draw the line somewhere, and cards like Syphon Soul and Break Open are never going to make the cut. But just because someone tells you a card is bad doesn’t mean you should discount it totally. Quirky rares like Force Bubble or Raven Guild Master just may have a place in your deck.
When all else fails, drafting a tribal deck is never going to be a total bust. A deck full of Elves or Goblins is a lot scarier than the individual cards in it.
Although not extremely relevant, this style of drafting is also extremely profitable in team booster drafts, since you can use your early picks to hate and still pick up the cards you need late as long as the other team doesn’t know what’s up (which is usually the case).
The key is to think outside of the box since drafting according to pick orders and mere card quality assessment will only get you so far. Keep your eyes open; the options are limitless.