Predicting What Will Wheel Is The Most Underrated Drafting Skill

Pack 1, Pick 9 is a critical juncture for any draft: the first wheel. Ryan Saxe shows you how to predict the wheel and shape your draft around it.

Akoum Hellhound, illustrated by Jason Kang
Akoum Hellhound, illustrated by Jason Kang

I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment by Jean-Emmanuel Depraz. The ability to predict what wheels or the card-quality-per-color that you expect to see in Pack 2 and Pack 3 fuels a variety of tie-breakers between close picks. The information from Pack 1 is crucial for this. The most important pick in most drafts, in my opinion, is Pack 1, Pick 9. The first wheel provides more information than any other pick in the draft, and leveraging that information is paramount to success.

Sometimes even the prospect of wheeling a card can change the course of a draft. It can be correct to first-pick a card, and note that if a specific card wheels out of that pack, you dive into that archetype head-first. Most importantly, noting that potential wheel incentivizes drafting with a bias towards that archetype. The draft I go over today has a lot of close decisions that are in this vein.

Pack 1, Pick 1

The Pack:

Mesa Lynx Skyclave Squid Skyclave Geopede Might of Murasa Bubble Snare Highborn Vampire Marauding Blight-Priest Spitfire Lagac Akoum Hellhound Angelheart Protector Lithoform Blight Relic Axe Acquisitions Expert Needleverge Pathway Island

The Pick:

My take!

For my normal Pack 1, Pick 1 pick order, I would rank the options as follows:

  1. Acquisitions Expert
  2. Bubble Snare
  3. Skyclave Geopede

Skyclave Geopede is a great card, don’t get me wrong, but my red decks almost always care a lot about party, and hence it loses a bit of stock. However, this pack is different. Even though I normally take Acquisitions Expert and Bubble Snare over Skyclave Geopede, I took the Geopede out of this pack. What’s different?

I believe there’s a very high probability that I wheel Akoum Hellion. And the wheeling options for Bubble Snare and Acquisitions Expert in this pack are mediocre.

You might be asking yourself why Akoum Hellhound isn’t mediocre too. Haven’t I said I dislike Gruul Aggro? That it’s better as a midrange deck with a higher top-end? That’s correct, and I do still believe that. It comes from the inconsistencies of the archetype and the fact that it’s just unlikely to get a density of cheap landfall creatures. However, given that I can almost guarantee two very good cheap-and-aggressive landfall creatures, I believe this start lends itself well to a consistent version of that deck.

The expected number of any given common in a draft is 2.4. I think the Gruul Aggro deck needs a minimum of three copies of Akoum Hellion. However, with the potential to have it in 23 other packs and guaranteed in this one, that 2.4 becomes 3.3. If the Hellion wheels, I can be confident other Hellions will as well, and hence I can expect to get the requisite three!

Pack 3, Pick 2

At this stage I’m very happy with my deck. This pick presents a really interesting question: “Is it correct to try to wheel the best card for my deck out of this pack: the Gruul gold card?”

The Picks So Far:

Skyclave Geopede Canopy Baloth Akoum Hellhound Spikefield Hazard Synchronized Spellcraft Tazeem Roilmage Akoum Hellhound Tazeem Raptor Akoum Hellhound Cleansing Wildfire Nahiri's Lithoforming Ravager's Mace Pressure Point Sizzling Barrage Forest Wayward Guide-Beast Bala Ged Recovery Vastwood Fortification Tangled Florahedron Molten Blast Cleansing Wildfire Cleansing Wildfire Sneaking Guide Akoum Hellhound Scale the Heights Sneaking Guide Sneaking Guide Murasa Brute Scale the Heights Glacial Grasp Might of Murasa

The Pack:

Joraga Visionary Prowling Felidar Cleric of Chill Depths Drana's Silencer Inordinate Rage Tazeem Roilmage Bubble Snare Deadly Alliance Skyclave Squid Territorial Scythecat Pelakka Predation Brushfire Elemental Shatterskull Charger Forest

The Pick:

My take!

Brushfire Elemental is the best card for this deck out of these three cards by a large margin. However, is it the best pick out of the pack? Is it possible to wheel Brushfire Elemental?

Looking over the pool, and the order in which I drafted many cards, it’s pretty clear that Gruul is open. But it’s more than that; the Territorial Scythecat in this pack matters. If there’s another Gruul drafter that takes Brushfire Elemental, that drastically increases the probability that Territorial Scythecat wheels.

Taking Shatterskull Charger here is correct. Charger and Scythecat together are better than just Brushfire Elemental. And there’s the additional benefit that there’s a reasonable chance to get both Charger and Elemental, two phenomenal cards for my deck.

This deck turned out beautifully, and it wouldn’t have been possible without predicting which cards would wheel out of early packs. That context added a wonderful layer of complexity to this particular draft and I’m happy I was able to capitalize on that.