Every Limited format, people want to hear about the best commons, colors, and archetypes. Pick orders and rankings are the most sought-after guides. They always will be, and I think they’re important because they’re easy to understand and implement. Yet the easiest path is rarely the most rewarding. The goal of this article is to lay the foundation for understanding both strategic and tactical approaches to navigate any Draft format.
Any decision in a draft is not simply a function of the current pool and pack. And it’s a lot more involved than reading signals and remembering the cards from previous packs. Draft decisions can, and should, be influenced by information not pertaining to anything contained in the current or previous packs. But before getting into the nuance of these decisions, it’s important to understand the problem-space of Draft navigation.
Let’s define a “path” as “an ordered sequence of 45 picks from Pack 1, Pick 1 to Pack 3, Pick 15.” Current Standard legal sets contain about 100 commons, 80 uncommons, 60 rares, and fifteen mythic rares, totaling about 255 unique cards. Because it’s theoretically possible to draft any of those unique cards with any pick, this means that the potential number of unique paths a Draft format has to offer is 25545. This number is literally larger than a googol — a one followed by 100 zeros. It is both humanly and computationally impossible to comprehend a Draft format in terms of combinatorics.
However, with an abundance of experience with prior Draft formats as well as many drafts of a current format, professional Magic players are consistently able to navigate drafts without being bogged down by the incomprehensible number of unique paths. This is because all unique paths don’t need to be considered in order to navigate a draft.
1. Many paths can be eliminated because they are unlikely to occur.
Would you be surprised if Zenith Flare wheeled in Pack 1? Of course! The probability of that is so low, that you eliminated considering that potential path. But lucky you, now you can completely shift into the best archetype uncontested.
2. Many paths can be eliminated due to assumed rationality.
Do you consider taking Grim Dancer in Pack 3 when you’re drafting Boros? No, because you’re behaving rationally and understand that you will not be able to cast it.
3. There isn’t a need to differentiate similar paths.
Do you prioritize drastically different cards today when drafting a Simic Mutate deck from those you did yesterday? No, because you understand what that archetype looks like, and even though each draft provides a unique path, there isn’t stress on differentiating paths when the resulting decks are similar. There are certainly different synergies and expressions of archetypes, and this can lead to different decisions on paths toward that archetype. I imagine a Simic Mutate deck with Farfinder, Evolving Wilds, and Migratory Greathorn functions differently from one without. it is important to distinguish some large subset of paths per-archetype, but this still eliminates an overwhelming majority of the 25545 paths.
With an understanding of archetypes, synergies, and card power levels, this path navigation problem is no longer daunting. Unlikely paths can be ignored, and similar paths can be grouped. However, it is still far from being simple. Consider the following Pack 1, Pick 8 decision, with five potential paths to go down:
Pack 1, Pick 8, Paths: 5
The Picks So Far:
What do you take? Feel free to take a moment before continuing to read.