Kategorie-Archiv: Draft

A Born of the Gods Draft Video

Toffel asked, so I had to do it: Here is a video of a BNG-THS-THS draft, just in time before PT Valencia! I might have done it in German and published it on Magic Universe, but that came to naught because of the near impossibility to communicate with the content editors of that site, who seem to check their e-mails once a week at most.

As with my Theros-only drafts, the same caveats do still exist: I don’t really know how to produce a video (but the initial blurriness is not my fault and will disappear by itself soon), my „English“ might be hard to bear, and my playing skills do not match my drafting and deckbuilding skills. That said, I believe that this draft was quite instructive!

Here’s the link to the YouTube video. Do not forget to come back and leave a comment!

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Thoughts about a winning RW Theros draft deck

This might or might not have been my last Theros-only draft. I am half-heartedly resolved to focus on other things than Magic for a while and return to drafting when the next set enters the environment. Also, the format begins to feel a little worn out to me after several dozen drafts. It’s fascinating, though, that some people allowed to publish on major Magic sites like this clueless guy here still don’t get it after about two months!

See, I have not only been winning a fair share of my matches overall with my drafting philosophy, with a spike in the beginning, when the set was fresh and many people fell for the LSV/Sutcliffe/Görtzen misinformation conspiracy, so that I could „make money“ in 8-4s for a while; and then settling for the slow drain of a ca. 70% win percentage in swiss drafts, which meant I was effectively paying for my drafts again, but very little. I also observed that the decks I lost to looked and played stunningly like the ones I drafted and built. I lost to Traveling Philosopher and Bronze Sable a lot, but almost never to Silent Artisan or Burnished Hart (okay, I’m not sure how often I even saw the former, but the latter I encountered very frequently), and I don’t remember ever forfeiting a match to a three- (or more) colored abomination (although some single games, which I found frustratingly enough), with which I was confronted commonly.

The dynamics I had envisioned for this environment have become reality: It is fast, requires board presence, and rewards actively trying to win the game with big plays, with UB constituting the only archetype being able to somehow comfortably play for the real lategame. Decks which durdle around or clump on generic chaff in the 4-6 mana range like Borderland Minotaur or Vulpine Goliath just do not beat either hyper-aggressive decks, strongly synergistic decks, focussed tempo decks or the UB control deck.

The following winning list is somehow symptomatic for this environment:

The deck showcases very nicely how weak single cards can be you get away playing with if you have a clear focus, a low curve, the right amount of creature enhancers (WAY more than Simon Görtzen would have you believe) and strong synergies. See those two copies each of Priest of Iroas and Bronze Sable, two of the most-maligned commons? If you tried your hands at RW aggro and never quite got it to work, maybe it was because you played Lagonna-Band Elder, Borderland Minotaur, Setessan Griffin and an extra land instead. (I know some people would.)

This deck also shows the progression from the all-in RW heroic design Caleb Durward once described. Just as I predicted, that style didn’t last long once it became known, because its key cards came into higher demand, and people learned to have answers for single big heroic threats ready. There are still heroic elements in here, but it’s only four creatures: Akroan Crusader (which did a good job), Arena Athlete (which did a great job), Phalanx Leader (which did a stellar job) and Labyrinth Champion (which I failed to draw even a single time). Instead, I have more generic creatures, encasing my heroic synergies in a traditional beatdown approach instead of solely focussing on them. A crucial pick in my draft demonstrates this nicely, when I took Coordinated Assault over Wingsteed Rider at the beginning of the second booster round, since at that time I already knew that my deck was heading into a direction where it needed the instant more. (In a vacuum, I would pick the Rider instead.) I could often simply overrun my opponent with lightning-fast starts backed up by enhancers, and if they managed to stem the early bleeding, that cost them the resources to deal with the big play I could follow my early offense up with.

To conclude this entry, let me describe how the final game of this draft went: My BW opponent started with Asphodel Wanderer into Ordeal of Erebos. My 2nd turn Akroan Hoplite on the draw looked glacially slow in comparison, and was even stopped by his follow-up of Baleful Eidolon, with which it traded when it attacked. Things looked really grim for me then. On my next turn, I put Satyr Rambler and Priest of Iroas into play and braced for the impact of the Wanderer and the sacrificed Ordeal, to which I discarded Mountain and Bronze Sable and was now down to two cards in hand.

On my next turn, I drew a second Plains and could now play my Phalanx Leader. I also got my first damge in with Rambler and Priest, putting my opponent to 17. Of course, he hit me back with his Wanderer, and I was now at 7 life, facing a 4/4 regenerator. However, my opponent was stuck on three lands, and either could not play anything else (not too unlikely, since I guess his deck was rather slow overall and just had a lucky godly start) or did not want to tap out to preserve the option of regenerating the Wanderer (although there are very few scenarios where this would come up after his attack).

I then drew the Last Breath I had sided in and which I had hoped to draw before his Wanderer spiralled out of control. It may seem useless at that time – but it was actually a superb draw, since the other card in my hand was Ordeal of Heliod! So, I put the Ordeal on my Leader, then targetted it with the Breath, which got countered on resolution. Then I attacked with everything. The Ordeal triggered, and suddenly I was back at 17 life, beating my opponent down to 6 with a 3/3 Priest, a 4/3 Rambler and a 4/4 Leader! My opponent conceded here – a bit prematurely, but I can see his point…

Just in case that this is my last entry this year, let me raise my imaginary glass and bring out a toast: Here’s to Bronze Sable!

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Winning a Theros draft with WB Aggro

Well, obviously posting a pictured walkthrough was not worth the effort, since it generated very little interest, so I’m back to just showing you a winning deck. I’m not doing this with every deck which wins an event; but only when I think that the deck in question is particularly interesting, or if I happen to feel like it (actually, the former condition serves mostly to make the latter more likely).

BW aggro is one of the less common archetypes in Theros draft, since Black lends itself more to controllish builds; aggressive White works better with all other colors; and BW in particular gives you cards which work best in control (Scholar of Athreos , Sentry of the Underworld). However, there are a couple of black cards which support this strategy, and sometimes you just happen to pair White with them.

I started my draft with Phalanx Leader over Shipbreaker Kraken (since the Leader is simply stronger), and was rewarded with a second pick Wingsteed Rider. Third pick it was decision time: My options were Voyage’s End and Ordeal of Erebos. The instant is the stronger card in a vacuum, but my first two picks already gave me a clear direction I wanted to take, and in this kind of deck, the aura is simply stellar. Other factors which influenced my decision were – if I remember correctly – a Boon of Erebos in that pack, which I believed could wheel (I think it did), my experiences with aggressive black cards often going quite late in a draft, and my desire to try out something new instead of WU heroic. This worked out exceptionally well: I got an unbelievable amount of playables, although I started hatepicking as early as in the middle of the second booster, because I knew that I didn’t need mediocre cards in my colors, or cards which did not fit my strategy (I passed two Scholar of Athreos that way). In the end, my sideboard contained quite a number of cards I would not have minded at all to maindeck, and even a BW rare some people consider to be an easy firstpick, but which would have been little more than an unexciting vanilla creature in my deck. Take a look:

Unfortunately, I never drew Fabled Hero in any of my eight games, and I also never landed a 2nd turn Ordeal, but obviously I cannot complain overall. I sideboarded Cavern Lampad against RG, Dark Betrayal against BRw minotaur tribal, and Viper’s Kiss against UW (featuring Master of Waves), each time replacing Fleshmad Steed.

Remarkable situations included an epic board stall aginst RG, which finally culminated in a turn when my opponent killed my bestowed Erebos’s Emissary with Destructive Revelry, used Boulderfall on me (bringing me down to 3 life), and finally attacked with Nessian Courser, Nylea’s Disciple, a monstrous Ill-Tempered Cyclops, a monstrous Polis Crusher with Fleetfeather Sandals, and a monstrous Nemesis of Mortals with Leafcrown Dryad bestowed on it. I blocked each of his creatures with one of mine, killed everything but the Nemesis, lost only one creature myself, took no damage from the attack and killed him from 21 life on the backswing. If you wonder how that happened, I’ll just tell you I had Phalanx Leader in play…

The last game in the finals was really close. My opponent was screwed during his first turns, and I was flooded all game. After I got a few hits in with double Tormented Hero, he piled auras and bestow creatures on his Wavecrash Triton, while I went to attacking with a pair of Sentry of the Underworld in the air whenever they happened to be untapped. Finally, he had stopped my assault, but was only on two life. My second-last card in hand was Viper’s Kiss, which I put on my Tormented Hero bestowed with Erebos’s Emissary. When my opponent responded with Griptide, I used my last card, Battlewise Valor, to win the game, the match, and the tournament.

The fundamental lesson is still this: The strength of a deck is not just the sum of the (perceived) strength of its cards. Fleshmad Steed was way stronger in this deck than Triad of Fates could have been. Theros draft is, like Zendikar draft was, a deckbuilder’s paradise: The most important things are a good curve, the right mix of functional elements, and strong synergies. However, just like Zendikar, it’s a bit of hell for good players, since games between good decks come down to drawing your cards in the perfect order much more often than in other environments. Naturally, this means that I quite like Theros draft – just as I liked Zendikar!

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I found a new tool: A pictured draft walkthrough

I just asked Ormus about a tool to convert the text-based Magic Online draft files into a pictured walkthrough, and he sent me this link. Had I known such a thing existed, I would’ve used it a lot already!

For a test ballot, I will cover a draft I did yesterday. Tell me how you like this format, and if you’re interested in lowly Swiss-winning decks at all!


–>  Pack 1 pick 1:

My Pick:

This was a choice between the rare and the two Emissaries. I guess many will value the bestow creatures higher, but these two are actually the ones I like least. This is because, if bestow costs more than five mana, I treat it merely as a bonus on the creature. 4 mana for a 3/3 with trample is fine, but not spectacular, while the black Emissary, on the other hand, is not a worse card than Anthousa, but doesn’t synergize too well with the cards which I want to see the most if trying to get into black (short version: I want my creatures on the board, not in hand; and I want the game to go a little longer, not to end it faster). Triggering Anthousa for profit is actually not too easy to do, but the card’s stats are pretty solid by itself, and the threat alone can change the dynamics of a game completely.

Pack 1 pick 2:

My Pick:

Simply the best card.

Pack 1 pick 3:

My Pick:

My choices in U/G are Aqueous Form and Vulpine Goliath – a solid card, and a somehow playable one (the aura is the solid one, if you wonder), but I’m certainly not set in either color yet, and I will not miss the opportunity to try out a much stronger third pick. The Oread and the Disciple are both a bit stronger, but not strong enough to be really appealing as picks in a new color, so I go for a multicolor card. Here, the Singer is probably the strongest, and it goes at least with the Naiad I already have, so I’ll have an eye out on U/B.

Pack 1 pick 4:

My Pick:

Not a good pack to choose from in my situation. Best single-colored card is Battlewise Valor, but it is not so good that I will now take my first white card. I had to decide if I wanted the Horse, which actually not many decks really want, or take another double-colored card and see if I’ll end up playing it. If I already had had something of a clue which colors I wanted to end up in, I might have just taken the Harpy or the Form, but since these are in the end replacable, I preferred to commit to keeping my options open a little longer.

Pack 1 pick 5:

My Pick:

This might not have been the best choice. I looked at the contents of this booster, saw several cards which a U/B deck would want, subconsciously decided I had to go for these colors, and took the best card for that type of deck. However, both the Cure and Omenspeaker are nearly as good in U/B, but a lot stronger in other decks, so Phalanx is actually only the third-best pick here. (Triton Tactics would be another contender in a vacuum, but it makes sense to priorize options for Dimir when you see such a booster, and the Tactics are at their worst in that guild, although still quite useful.) In hindsight, Omenspeaker would have been correct.

Pack 1 pick 6:

My Pick:

Since I was clearly not on track for a deck where Boon of Erebos shines, this is the logical pick.

Pack 1 pick 7:

My Pick:

I already debated Scourgemark vs Coastline Chimera when I realized I was about to make the mistake of deciding on my colors too early. If I take the Warrior here, I miss out on a card which in the end may or may not make a U/B deck; but if I don’t, I miss out on the option to craft a synergetic U/G deck if the following boosters allow for it. Theros boosters are usually deep enough in quality that I can afford to postpone the decision which colors I want for another pack.

Pack 1 pick 8:

My Pick:

Aaaaaaaaand here comes the pick which makes me look like a genius! So maybe I SHOULD be in Green. At this point, a good enabler was a tad more important than another strong, but clumsy creature which needed to be enabled. Also, Feral Invocation is great with 2-drops, and I always try to run enough of those.

Pack 1 pick 9:

My Pick:

So why did I take the Hoplite here? Because I could see there wasn’t a single card in this pack I’d end up playing, not only because they were unexciting, but because they did not even fit the direction my decks were going. I have enough experience drafting Theros that I can usually judge if I desperately need cards to fill out my decks, and that was not yet the case here. Hoplite, however, can be instrumental in beating me if I have a slow draw, so I hate it.

Pack 1 pick 10:

My Pick:

If you followed the flow of the packs in this booster round, you might have noticed how each color seemed to be open at different times. Here, it’s Red’s turn. This is a good lesson in not interpreting too much into weak signals. Now, I know I will play some combination of Blue, Green and Black, so the Minotaur is the easy pick. It’s not much more exciting than my on-color options in the previous pack, but I know I might actually play it if I end up Dimir, since it fits in there.

Pack 1 pick 11:

My Pick:

Same logic again, but this time looking at U/G. I’m not a big fan of the fox at all, but in this deck it can have a place.

Pack 1 pick 12:

My Pick:

Although it is unlikely to make the cut in Dimir, in Simic the Form is better than the Minotaur is in U/B, and it actually has strong synergy with my former picks in that guild.

Pack 1 pick 13:

My Pick:

The instant goes better with the picks I already have, but it is unlikely to make the cut, and I might pick up a couple Nemesis of Mortals later.

Pack 1 pick 14:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 15:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 1:

My Pick:

If I’d already had a good number of cheaper creatures in my pool, I would have grabbed the Revenge, but the opposite was the case. Also, the Dryad really goes excellently with my other U/G picks so far, both as a bestow creature and as a creature to be enhanced with an aura. Finally, in a vacuum, it is a simply a better pick than the Revenge. Yes, it is. No, I’m not kidding. Oh, and both cards are better than a second Singer for a Dimir deck would be, and Chimera and Read the Bones follow a little further behind.

Pack 2 pick 2:

My Pick:

I’d LOVED to pick up Vaporkin here, but the only thing my U/G deck is missing more than good 2-drops is good bounce. (No, Sea God’s Revenge is NOT „bounce“ in deckbuilding terms – it’s a lategame card.) Also, at this point I no longer doubt that I’m drafting the U/G tempo deck.

Pack 2 pick 3:

My Pick:

I nearly despaired when I saw that pack. The only cards here which I really like to maindeck need red or white mana. I didn’t need another expensive creature, I didn’t want the Piper, which is just not good, and I did not want Dissolve, which just doesn’t go well with building up board presence, which is crucial in Theros draft, and especially in U/G tempo. I would’ve snapdrafted Bronze Sable over everything in this pack, but it wasn’t in there. Just a second before time ran out, I took the Centaurs, which were most likely (read: least unlikely) to make my deck.

Pack 2 pick 4:

My Pick:

Seeing that I only have one bounce spell so far to deal with opposing creatures, that my curve is rather high, and that Time to Feed can profitably target Staunch-Hearted Warrior or Anthousa, this is an easy pick. Wavecrash Triton isn’t bad, but not the kind of card I had to be afraid to have too few of. Sable IS that kind of card, but the removal is still more important.

Pack 2 pick 5:

My Pick:

This fits the deck perfectly. At this point, I am mainly concerned about my curve.

Pack 2 pick 6:

My Pick:

Shredding Winds is a solid sideboard card, but I preferred to hate a card which sometimes just wins.

Pack 2 pick 7:

My Pick:

This is about the best card I could have wished for to make my deck tick. I realized, though, that I might miss the Omenspeaker later.

Pack 2 pick 8:

My Pick:

Slam down the 2-drop, obviously!

Pack 2 pick 9:

My Pick:

Now this card is what Pheres-Band Centaurs wish they were.

Pack 2 pick 10:

My Pick:

Okay, I’ll find room in my deck for another one.

Pack 2 pick 11:

My Pick:

Once again, instead of picking something I KNOW I don’t need, I rather hate a strong card.

Pack 2 pick 12:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 13:

My Pick:

Yes, it’s the better card.

Pack 2 pick 14:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 15:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 1:

My Pick:

Can you believe I was actually HAPPY to firstpick that Scorpion? It helped to fill a gaping hole in my deck. Never forget that in draft, you’re building your deck as you go.

Pack 3 pick 2:

My Pick:

I was way more disappointed with my second pick, especially seeing how good cards in other colors were. The Warrior is fine, of course, but a good 2-drop or 3-drop would have helped me more.

Pack 3 pick 3:

My Pick:

Now that a have another Warrior, and those 2 chimeras, a second of these is certainly not too many.

Pack 3 pick 4:

My Pick:

It’s all about not just picking the best cards, but what your deck needs most. Both green creatures are stronger, of course, but Omenspeaker is not just a 2-drop I desperately need; it’s a 2-drop which sets up all those mini-comboes I have, helps against both flood and screw in a deck with a rather high curve, and becomes big enough with Feral Instinct that neither Lash of the Whip nor Rage of Purphoros can kill it. If you do not understand why this pick is crucially correct, you are still struggling with understanding Theros draft, and the fundamentals of good drafting in general.

Pack 3 pick 5:

My Pick:

In a deck with the perfect curve, I would have taken the Ordeal, but I was far from that. I wasn’t unhappy at all to take one of the best commons in the set, though.

Pack 3 pick 6:

My Pick:

Nessian Asp! Time to Feed! Two excellent cards I’d love to run in my deck. But once again, I take the card I NEED instead.

Pack 3 pick 7:

My Pick:

Same here.

Pack 3 pick 8:

My Pick:

At this point, I realize that I will actually manage to complete a focussed deck, albeit barely.

Pack 3 pick 9:

My Pick:

When I saw this aura, I knew it would make the cut.

Pack 3 pick 10:

My Pick:

No, I will NOT run another fox, thank you.

Pack 3 pick 11:

My Pick:

Nothing in here for me.

Pack 3 pick 12:

My Pick:

Nice to get a late copy of that sideboard card.

Pack 3 pick 13:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 14:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 15:

My Pick:

(This draft converter was created by Benjamin Peebles-Mundy.)

 

This led to the following deck:

I ran the fox as an impact card, since I realized that I wanted 16 lands to go with my Voyaging Satyrs. In a better world, the fox would have been a Nessian Asp, and the Annul sitting in the sideboard and replaced by, say, a Voyage’s End, but seeing how late I settled in my colors, and how many picks I spent on off-color cards, I cannot complain.

Strangely, I never encountered a deck where Gainsay or Shredding Winds would have helped me, so I never sideboarded anything.

My matches went mostly as planned. I got on the board early and relentlessly, creating huge threats and tempo swings with my auras and bestow creatures. One game, I used Triton Tactics to ambush a 5/5 Nessian Courser by untapping two Staunch-Hearted Warrior – that was fun! Omenspeaker really helped me out in almost any situation. The fox was okay, but unnervingly slow. I’ll never understand why so many drafters immediately hide any Bronze Sable in their card pool, but treat the clumsy 6-drop like something precious.

So, I won a tournament – although only a swiss – with a rather mediocre deck. Two lessons can be learned here:

1) Theros offers enough playables that you do not need to panic if you go into the second booster round without a clear direction.

2) Don’t just pick cards, DRAFT A DECK. It cannot be said often enough. A heap of impressive-looking, expensive cards is not a deck. A deck has a curve. Bronze Sable is your friend.

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Three new winning Theros draft decklists

I’m no longer recording my drafts – probably until the next set comes out – but I guess you might like to see my winning deck lists. Posting those is certainly a lot less effort, and MagicBlogs gives me the tools to display them easily in a very nice way, so here we go!

I did five more drafts since my last published draft. In my fifth draft, I lost in the semis with a very nice B/g deck when I was screwed on B with 11 Swamp in the deck twice against GW heroic. I then took down my sixth draft with my most controllish build so far:

I left two Vaporkin and a Prescient Chimera in my sideboard to streamline this deck. This won’t happen often, but it was the correct choice here.

For my seventh draft, I got an excellent WR heroic deck, but once again fell in the semis, this time to a strong UG tempo deck when I had slower starts twice. But in my eighth draft luck was with me again, when I didn’t have more than one bad draw per match with the following deck:

I drew Purphoros only once. He did his job then.

In my ninth draft, I managed another win with this beauty (note that it is not nearly as strong as my other RW heroic deck which didn’t make it to the finals – draw skills still matter):

Note that I switched from W/g to W/r as late as in the third booster round (guess which card I opened!), which was possible because I had few green cards so far, already picked up a couple red, and could be sure that White was underdrafted. Another point of interest may be that I cast my Hopeful Eidolon for one mana roughly as often as I bestowed it.

For those among you who judge the validity of my theories by my results only (which is wrong, but I know some still do), this is my complete track record in Theros draft so far:

Release queues:
2-1 in a Swiss
2-1 in a 4-3-2-2

Published videos (all 8-4):
0-1
3-0
2-1
3-0

Later drafts (all 8-4):
1-1
3-0
1-1
3-0
3-0

That’s 23-6 overall, 19-4 in 8-4 queues, and winning 48 boosters in eleven drafts (44 in eight 8-4s). Also, my rating has gone up roughly 100 points during that time (I’d been in a ditch of ca. 1760 since Modern Masters). If such numbers are the thing that convinces you, here you go!

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Watching Drafts vs Watching the Matches Afterwards

The numbers are pretty clear: Among my draft videos, the drafts themselves get twice as many clicks as my matches with the drafted decks afterwards. While different explanations are possible (watchers returning to the drafts more often for analysis purposes, for example), it makes most sense to assume that people just aren’t as interested in seeing me play those decks as in following my draft decisions, and those few voices which gave me feedback on my question hereabout support this, even if they say they clicked all my videos once.

Now, I can see where that is coming from! For one thing, I wholeheartedly agree that the drafting process itself is the most interesting part. Also, I said myself that I am not that great a player – thus it follows that there is less to learn by watching me play than watching me draft. There’s a caveat here, though: I do actually not play worse than most other players publishing draft videos – at least not worse than they do in their published games – and even clearly better than several of them, even with all my deficiencies. But then again, this isn’t about grading on a curve. If my gameplay isn’t exemplary, then it may not be instructive enough to justify spending time watching me play. It that was my only reason to do so, I certainly would not take the time to produce and upload those videos!

However, my gameplay is not why you should watch my matches after watching my drafts. Just as Jörn said in his comment: The point of the match videos is to validate my drafts! See, of course I want you to believe my theories about Theros draft; but I want to convince you, not have you blindly trust me. You should take the trouble to examine if my ideas are in concordance with reality, and to do that, you need to watch the games I play with the decks I draft.

Validation is not about my results only. Certainly, it says something that I was able to win two of my four 8-4 drafts so far and reach the finals of another. This is especially true because I am not that great a player, pointing towards my decks being strong enough to carry me to victory without overly clever input from me. But variance is still going strong in Magic, and the sample size of my published drafts is obviously rather small. (Also, you might not trust me when I assure you that I published all drafts I recorded instead of selecting those where I did better.)

To be really able to judge the advisability of my draft strategy – and, more importantly, to fully understand it, so that you can implement it yourself! – you need to see for yourself how my games shaped up; how I won, and how I lost. Were the perceived strengths of my decks responsible for carrying me to victory? Did they sport weaknesses which caused their downfall?

Assessing how lucky I was when I won, and how unlucky when I lost, puts my results in perspective. (Also, if a clear misplay might have decided a game, as in my first game first round first draft, when I overlooked on my last turn that my Fanatic of Mogis could have attacked for the possible win, you need to seperate a player’s shortcomings from those of their deck.) Still, even if you find that the validity of my ideas has been confirmed, this should not be enough for you: Only seeing how and why they work imparts the necessary understanding to put them into practice yourself, adjust them to specific situations, and improve on them.

That is why I took the time and effort to upload all matches in addition to the drafts, and why I will not go on publishing only the drafts themselves, even though this would go a LOT faster: Seeing how my decks actually play gives my draft analysis the necessary context. You can fast-forward those videos, if you like, which also has the merit of saving you from my blathering, but you should make sure to understand how these games unfold, or you aren’t taking away as much from my drafts as you should.

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Two more Theros Video Drafts

This entry will conclude my series of articles and videos about Theros draft. Initially I intended to keep posting draft videos on a weekly basis or so, but I found the ratio between effort and feedback unsatisfying. Thus I’ll wrap things up with two more quite instructive drafts while the format is still somehow young. I won’t miss doing these videos much – I mostly felt the urgent need to correct all those terrible misconceptions you still find everywhere on the net (no wonder if the typical published draft video is several weeks old!) and only got into producing draft videos because I honestly thought there would be a lot of interest in them (I was asked on twitter a couple of times if I did video drafts), since they show how my theories about this environment affect my draft decisions and translate into actual success. If there isn’t really that much interest, I do not feel compelled to go on with them. (Those people who believe that MagicBlogs is a more appealing site if it is mostly void of content may rejoice!)

I am happy, though, that I gave the minority who is seriously interested in improving their draft skills the chance to do so. If you missed them, here are all my other entries related to Theros draft:

Eliminating Misconceptions about Theros draft
Analyzing Published Theros drafts, Part 1
Analyzing Published Theros drafts, Part 2
Analyzing Published Theros drafts, Part 3
Good Player Bias
Two Theros Video Drafts

And here are my newest two draft videos. Again, if the videos are blurry at first, just wait a few seconds; my English is still terrible; and my decks are still a lot stronger than their pilot:

Theros Draft 3 – Drafting & Deckbuilding
Theros Draft 3 – 1st Round
Theros Draft 3 – 2nd Round
Theros Draft 3 – 3rd Round
Theros Draft 4 – Drafting & Deckbuilding
Theros Draft 4 – 1st Round
Theros Draft 4 – 2nd Round
Theros Draft 4 – 3rd Round

I’ll be back when I again feel the urge to talk about something Magic-related. Until then!

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Two Theros video drafts

(If you want to know where this is coming from, checkout my extensive analysis articles on Theros draft:
Eliminating Misconceptions about Theros draft
Analyzing Published Theros drafts, Part 1
Analyzing Published Theros drafts, Part 2
Analyzing Published Theros drafts, Part 3
Good Player Bias)

It took some time due to technical reasons (meaning, my stark incompetence), but I now present my first two Theros video drafts! (I see your surprise is somehow lessened after reading the title of this entry.) A few disclaimers are in order, though:

1. I am aware that the language in which I try to express myself only bears a passing resemblance to English. I apologize for this, but I cannot help it.

2. I also know that the technical quality of these videos is quite low. I guess that is somehow related to the fact that I do not really have a clue how to do this stuff. (However, if they seem really blurry, you just need to wait a few moments until the issue sorts out itself.)

3. I am not that great a player. While of course my strong drafting and deckbuilding skills by necessity go with a sound understanding of general play dynamics, I am irritatingly prone to oversights, and I cannot plan ahead the way really good players are able to.

With that out of the way, here are those two drafts, which I believe are quite interesting and instructive:

Draft 1 – Drafting & Deckbuilding

Draft 1 – 1st Round

Draft 2 – Drafting & Deckbuilding

Draft 2 – 1st Round

Draft 2 – 2nd Round

Draft 2 – 3rd Round

I tentatively plan to publish another draft video every week or so. I found out that producing and uploading such videos takes a LOT more time than I had guessed, so this is already kinda ambitious.

If you have any feedback, please come back to this entry and post it here! I’ve disabled YouTube comments, because I’m not a fan of splitting a discussion over several places.

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Good Player Bias

I’m done now with my „Analyzing Published Theros Drafts“ series. I got enough positive feedback that I am convinced it was worth writing it, but to keep going I would have needed quite heavy additional encouragement, since this kind of article really takes a lot of time. Still, I feel I cannot leave out a video which shows an at the same time unparalleled disastrous and hilarious, but most importantly insightful draft. It’s also a really good fit for a topic I wanted to write about for some time: Good player bias.

There are many different types of players who tend to possess different preferences (which is actually one of the most useful ways to categorize them), and this leads to them having different biases as well. Naturally, player types overlap a lot, and some categories go together more often than others. This is why you will find certain kinds of biases more often among better players.

Typically, good players prefer control decks over aggro decks. This is because control decks are reactive instead of active, and because they plan for longer games instead of trying to win as fast as possible. Both these approaches translate into more options and thus more decisions during a game, which in turn means that these players can make better use of their playing skill, and that games are more likely decided by good or bad decisions instead of chance. This does emphatically not mean that playing aggressive decks competently requires little skill, but control decks maximize the influence playing skill has on the outcome of games. Notably, aggro mirrors are much more likely to be decided on better draws than control mirors.

This preference goes well with the dynamics of fresh constructed environments. The good aggressive decks in a metagame are usually found out earlier than their control counterparts, because they can focus on how they want to win, while control decks have to figure out what they have to beat. Finding good control decks and correctly playing them is thus both harder and takes more time than finding good aggro decks, although both types continue to evolve with the maturing of a format. This means that any new constructed metagame is likely to look like it’s dominated by aggressive decks in the beginning, but good players know that it is typically just a question of time until strong control decks surface.

This insight, however, leads to a fatal bias when analyzing new limited environments – because here things are actually the other way around! In limited, everyone will identify the means to win longer games soon: Removal, card advantage, single unanswerable threats. Finding the right tools for implementing focussed and synergetic aggressive strategies, however, takes time. In a draft, if you just pick strong cards (abiding to basic rules of deck construction), you will usually end up with a reasonably strong control deck – at least reasonably strong relative to the overall power level of these decks in an environment. To build aggressive decks, you cannot just pick cards, you have to build a focussed, well-rounded deck while drafting, which is much harder!

Good players – and I talk about the actually BEST players in the world here, to whom LSV certainly belongs as a prime example! – tend to have a blind spot for the skills needed to draft good aggressive decks. They are used from their constructed experiences to aggro mainly building itself, so they do not look for ways to improve any aggressive decks they might try out in the beginning, instead focussing on control strategies, just as they do in constructed. Thus, they not only miss out on the true strength of aggressive decks in an environment, they also spend their playtesting time less efficient, because in limited, fine-tuning control decks gives you less reward than in constructed, while fine-tuning aggressive decks leads to a considerably larger increase in win percentage at first – just the opposite to constructed!

This is one of the reasons why some good players actually prefer high-level events to be constructed instead of limited (although nearly every skilled player loves draft more than constructed overall): They’re simply not as good at it before the metagame has settled and the structure of succesful archetypes is well known. (The other reason is that top players tend to be connected very well with playtesting partners, and that efficient playtesting in a still undefined constructed metagame is a much bigger advantage than draft playtesting can ever be.)

There are more reasons why these players often fail to notice how good aggressive strategies in a draft environment actually are: One is convergent groupthink, which I already mentioned in my theoretical analysis of Theros draft. The other is the very fact that they are good players! Their skill allows them to put up better results with control decks against aggressive decks piloted by less skilled players. Moreover, they also tend to play control decks just better than aggro decks (this is inextricably linked with their inability to discover the best way to draft the latter), further warping their playtesting results.

In earlier times, good player bias manifested more often in constructed formats, too, when there were mantras like „You do not play Sligh; you find a way to beat it!“, which backfired when other players concentrated on improving the aggressive decks. Over the last years, though, it has become painfully obvious for anyone willing to actually look that good player bias leads to grave misjudgements of limited environments by many, if not most popular Magic article writers. These spread through a largely uncritical community and take roots which only get wed out irritatingly slowly.

One reason this is unlikely to change is that those very players, skilled as they are overall, are simply not aware of their deficits, and refuse to listen to criticism. On one side, they certainly have good reasons to trust their own opinions – after all, they usually ARE succesful in high-level-Magic, so obviously they do a lot of things right! On the other side, there is often a certain amount of arrogance involved – a trait which correlates somehow with both being succesful and with publishing articles, since it represents excessive confidence, an attribute needed for both. Especially criticism from unknown or less succesful players gets dismissed fast.

Now let us get to that wonderful draft by Simon Görtzen showcasing these unacknowledged deficits. I actually can not claim with authority from personal experience that Simon is, in fact, a really good player – I just watched a few of his draft videos which certainly do not point that way – but I have no doubts about it whatsoever! He has won a Pro Tour, after all, and racked up more than 100 lifetime pro tour points – as much variance as there is in Magic, it does not come anywhere close to allowing for the possibility of Simon not being a very skilled Magic player. That makes his failures here even more remarkable, though!

Note that there are very different ways of making wrong picks. Some are simply disastrously and – with some basic knowledge about the fundamental dynamics of an environment – obviously wrong. Others are really subtle mistakes which come down to choosing between nearly equally attractive cards based on an estimation of the current draft metagame; or they are tiny, seemingly unimportant decisions which nonetheless are not strategically optimized, giving a draft an unfortunate direction, and which are often only clearly recognizable in hindsight. The latter kind of mistakes will with some frequency always happen even to the best drafters. It’s still useful to point them out and analyze them, but they do not indicate a general lack of competence, unless they pile up. The former, though, are a clear sign that a drafter still has a long way to climb up on his learning curve. Most draft errors, of course, fall somewhere in between.

Simon’s very first pick is a Keepsake Gorgon over (at least according to his commentary) Titan of Eternal Fire and Battlewise Hoplite. I don’t think the Titan is seriously in the race here. Let’s assume Simon only mentions it to his readers because it’s the rare. Gorgon over Hoplite is a much more interesting decision, and I don’t think it’s correct, although it is certainly close. That the heroic creature is the stronger card should not be up to debate, but how much should the fact that it is double-colored influence our decision? In a vacuum, this would probably cancel its superior quality out. If you already know a bit about Theros draft, though, you will realize that the Gorgon’s advantage is actually quite a bit lower than it seems as first glance, since the range of good decks you can expect to draft where it fits in is rather narrow. You need to be solidly in Black, and more importantly, it is only really strong in a deck featuring ramp or being extremely lategame-oriented. The former option means explicitly that you go Golgari, and while the latter is doable in any color combination with Black, it’s really hard to make such a deck work in this environment. On the other hand, the Hoplite only goes into Azorius decks, but will be at least good in all interpretations of it (if those are built correctly). I would estimate that the average number of strong decks at one table which would actively want the Gorgon is maybe a little over 2; and that number for the Hoplite around 1. Seeing this, the multicolored creature might actually be the better pick here.

However, the real mistake here is neglecting the Nimbus Naiad! If the nymph was slightly weaker than the Gorgon, everything which spoke for Gorgon over Hoplite would speak for her – she goes in absolutely every blue deck, fast or slow, and works even as a splash (not that you should splash in Theros draft if you can at all avoid it). But since in reality the Naiad is just simply better anyway, this is a clear, even though not spectacular, mispick. Simon thus has been hurting his chances to get a strong deck from the very beginning.

Talking about spectacular mispicks: „I don’t think it wins games on its own…“ says Simon about Tymaret, the Murder King – well, yeah, that is technically correct. Hythonia the Cruel doesn’t win games on its own either – it needs lands. Tymaret needs creatures (and lands). More specifically, it needs to go into an aggressive Rakdos deck. Simon, in a perfect example of good player bias, leaves the option to draft such a deck out of his calculations, believing he is just drafting according to his preferences, but actually failing to realize what is up in Theros draft, heavily handicapping himself because of this. He takes the clumsy Lash of the Whip instead, starting his draft with two defensive picks for 5 mana. (This is a bad omen in any environment except maybe M14!)

3rd pick Baleful Eidolon isn’t exactly bad as a follow-up to Simon’s former picks (note that I always evaluate picks in the context of already made draft decisions), but by eschewing Anthousa, Setessan Hero, Simon once again shows that he shys away from taking cards which require commitment to a certain strategy, always taking the safe „good“ pick instead of trying to go for a synergetic, strong deck. It’s important to realize, though, that taking Anthousa might lead one down the dangerous route of clumsy Golgari, while one at the same time passes in Voyaging Satyr the most important common to make this archetype work. That would probably not end well, either, so taking the rare would require a willingness to possibly abandon the first few picks, which Simon is unlikely to do since he overrates them.

The 4th pick then marks the point where this draft goes from suboptimal to trainwreck. (Simon will even realize his mistake later in the draft.) So, Deathbellow Raider is only real good in aggressive decks, true. However, good BR decks are almost always aggressive, so committing to it just means committing to that color combination, which Simon should have done now at the latest (lamenting the lost opportunity in Tymaret, of course), because it is the best way to go. The alternatives are the three uncommons, all of which just don’t lead into a promising draft strategy: Reverent Hunter requires really heavy Green to be strong, which does not go with the earlier picks and is aditionally hampered by having just passed two excellent green cards – this is a situation similar to that with Anthousa, but we are a crucial additional pick later in now, and Hunter is actually weaker than the legendary hero in a typical 2-color shell. Karametra’s Acolyte has nothing going for it when compared to the Hunter – the same points speak against it (you really need to be seriously Green to make it good), and it is not as strong overall. Sentry of the Underworld goes best with Simon’s already made picks and has quite a high power level, but points to clumsy Orzhov, which as a strategy is inherently so much weaker than fast Rakdos in this environment, that it’s better to avoid the flyer.

Deathbellow Raider would have brought an already misguided draft back on track, allowing to make use of the Eidolon (which is strong in any deck) and the Lash (although you do not want too many expensive removal spells, a couple Lash and Rage of Purphoros are fine), while relegating the Gorgon to a filler which might or might not make the cut in the end. That is still a more promising direction than with the other choices from that pack, but Simon decides against it and takes the Acolyte, overestimating its ability to make clumsy lategame decks work without clear dedication to a ramp strategy.

Dear readers, if your fist four picks look similar to Simon’s first four picks in Theros draft, your alarm bells should be ringing! You are at the same time sporting several high mana cost cards, and missing strong threats. In a slow environment like M14, such a reactive setup might not get punished, but in Theros, it usually will.

Pack five doesn’t make it easy for Simon, I grant that. If one had moved into Rakdos before, Ill-Tempered Cyclops would have been fine, although not stellar, but with no Red in his pool Simon has no real alternative to picking Vaporkin, with nothing better to choose for Black or even Green than an Anvilwrought Raptor (which is okay, but not important enough to miss the opportunity to move into Blue with the much more efficient small flyer, also making an already clumsy setup even clumsier, and thus unlikely to actually find a place in the final deck).

Pack 6 scorns Simon by presenting him with even more excellent Red, and at the same time offering only more clumsy stuff in Green that does not help him at all.

Pharika’s Mender then is definitely the right pick in Simon’s situation, but another Deathbellow Raider shows what an excellent opportunity Simon missed by refusing to go for an aggressive deck. It is now too late for a switch; Simon just has to follow further the not too promising slow Golgari route – unless, of course, he decides to mess up his deck even worse, which he will soon do!

Pick 8 is when Simon finally realizes that he should have been in Red. He overrates Magma Jet, but in the end it doesn’t make a difference if he picks that or Spearpoint Oread, which are the only reasonable choices. (Yes, Unknown Shores is that close to unplayable.)

After Boon of Erebos, Simon is forced to take another red card in Portent of Betrayal, and then grabs a Titan’s Strength. It doesn’t help anymore, though – the end of the first booster round is too late a time to go for a different secondary color, if that color points toward a strategy that doesn’t fit with that of the picks in your primary color. You can generally still replace a color at this point in Theros draft, because its density of playables is very high; but you can not completely start over your deck plan. Asphodel Wanderer would have been the correct pick, sporting at least a small chance to find a place in a BG deck due to its place in the mana curve.

Satyr Rambler is then another futile efort to catch a train which has already left the station. Scourgemark is unlikely to make the cut in the end, I grant that, but it is still possible for the deck to pick up enough black devotion synergies to make it matter. (Staunch-Hearted Warrior is less of a reason, because it just doesn’t fit in slow BG, so the goal at this point must be to craft a deck where it will be left out.)

Another thing is that taking all these red cards which Simon has no hope to play is bad signaling. Since the first booster round went so terrible for him, he cannot afford to lose picks in the second by suddenly depriving drafters behind him of a color he ignored before, making them look for other opportunities which may happen to be in Simon’s colors.

Howver, there is one overarching theme to everything which went wrong with Simon’s deck so far, and that is his erroneous belief that chosing aggression or defense is only a matter of preference in Theros draft. It isn’t: Reactive decks are inherently disadvantaged and thus need an extra promising setup to be the correct way to go. Simon missed the color which was open to him because he rightfully identified that it required an aggressive setup, and then found himself without the fundaments for a working deck. He doesn’t yet realize how precarious his situation actually is, even, since he overrates several cards he took so far and underestimates the dire consequences of a too high curve and the even more dire consequences of possibly going for a third color.

Then Simon makes his first pick from the second booster round, Purphoros’s Emissary, over Anger of the Gods (which is already debatable in his situation), instead of biting the bullet and taking one of the slow black cards, which admittedly don’t fix his most urgent issues, but at least give his defensive deck some hope to set up its lategame shields, and allow him to stay BG.

Now, suddenly Simon considers himself to have moved out of Green for Red, although the Red stuff he has so far, while being more numerous, actually is still less helpful than his Green, because it is too late now to go aggressive. Maybe overstimating Magma Jet had something to do with it. Maybe Simon, who just before had realized that passing on the 2 Deathbellow Raider had been a bad move, simply fails to see that he cannot turn back time. Obviously, he isn’t aware that the single thing that could make a deck out of his heap of cards is picking up a couple of Voyaging Satyr to support his Acolyte and accelerate into his expensive cards.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Red – the color Simon declined to take early enough in the first booster round – dries up afterwards, so Simon returns to Green again. Admittedly, the packs‘ offerings kind of oscillate between Green, Black and Red, but Simon’s own unfocussed drafting in the first booster round might have had a hand into bringing this about, throwing drafters behind him for a loop. So, what he does is switch to his final strategy of going three colors on the back of double Nylea’s Presence. Simon then finally panics over his mana curve, procceding to draft more Guardians of Meletis than I’m likely to maindeck in all my future Theros drafts together, but ignoring the more mana-efficient Bronze Sable.

So, going into the third booster round, Simon’s card pool so far is even more of a mess than after the first – quite the feat! You should know that you are in deep trouble when you plan to go three colors and at the same time believe you desperately need low-quality cards like the Guardians.

Simon is then gifted with the very card his deck needs most, Voyaging Satyr (okay, Sylvan Caryatid would have been even better), but afterwards finally cements the direction his deck is taking with a Rage of Purphoros over the more curve-friendly option of Felhide Minotaur. Here also goes the last, already remote chance of staying in two colors. While picking the removal spell is at least consistent with Simon’s overall approach, as problematic as that is, the Minotaur would have filled the still lacking 3-mana slot with a much better option than the defenders he picked up earlier.

Pick three is another case of Simon taking what he wants over what he needs. If he could count on casting Lightning Strike reliably on his early turns, it would help to shore up his deck’s weaknesses somehow, but since he can’t, the land would be more useful by providing manafixing which isn’t too clumsy. I concede it is a really rare situation where you want Temple of Abandon over the instant, but Simon succesfully managed to manoeuver himself into one of them!

Talking about clumsy manafixers: This is what Burnished Hart and Opaline Unicorn are. I need to go an a short tangent here: 3-drop mana stones are NEVER good in a good deck in all but the slowest draft environments, unless they have a significant additional upside. The Obelisks in Alara weren’t good, and neither were the Cluestones in Dragon’s Maze. You sometimes had to run them, but that was always either a concession that your deck hadn’t turned out quite the way it should have, or simply a mistake. Scuttlemutt, Pristine Talisman, Coalition Relic or the Keyrunes can give you enough extra value sometimes, but are still slow. The difference between two and three mana on an accelerator is HUGE, and if your deck needs a card like Opaline Unicorn, you actually need a better deck.

I think Simon would have been way better off with the Temple before and either Bronze Sable or Agent of Horizons now, but as things stand, he probably has to go for the Unicorn.

Next pick, Traveler’s Amulet is fine, but Simon’s comment is hilarious: „I think our deck is turning out quite nicely…“ Well, yes, if you’re into train wrecks!

At the last possible opportunity, Simon is forced to take a Fleshmad Steed which will actually make the deck later. Wouldn’t it be better, then, to have grabbed those Bronze Sable?

I really hate the pool Simon ends up with. You spend all your early turns sorting out your mana and finding enough lands to play your expensive spells, and even if you survive so far, you are stuck mostly with reactive stuff and no really powerful things to do. I don’t like this kind of approach even in sealed, but in this draft environment it is literally the worst thing you can do!

However, if this is what you have to work with, you need to follow through with it. Simon’s token concessions to a resemblance of a mana curve, Fleshmad Steed and Guardians of Meletis, do not belong in the deck, and neither does Staunch-Hearted Warrior. This deck is busy enough with employing its manafixers and accelerators during its early turns, and then you just have to hope that its high quality cards in conjunction with its answers can take over the game. If it needs to fit a cheap defensive creature into a mana gap, there are three Baleful Eidolon to fulfill that role admirably. Once it starts to spend 4+ mana, it cannot make use of a creature which isn’t impressive by itself like the Warrior. Instead, it has to go for plays strong enough to stand alone, and maximize its chances to have the right removal at hand (especially hard in Theros, but that’s what Simon is in for). I would thus have gone with Fade into Antiquity – providing an effect a reactive deck in Theros cannot dispense with -; March of the Returned for card advantage and to bring back those Eidolons which will likely have died earler on defense duty; and one Viper’s Kiss to stymie early offense and shut down monstrosity, as well as miscellaneous other crucial abilities (like that of an early opposing Voyaging Satyr, or maybe a Two-Headed Cerberus with Dragon Mantle). Even when the chances that your deck works are quite low, you should still aim to maximize them.

Simon also plays too few Forest to bring his green mana cards online reliably. He correctly minimizes Red to use only cards which are still impactful in the lategame, so two Mountain would have been plenty.

The games then continue to be really instructive. In the first game, note how Simon succesfully stops his opponent’s not too fast offense, and seems to be the clear winner after he uses Magma Jet on Wingsteed Rider in response to a bestowed Observant Alseid. He has extreme card advantage on a near empty board and is still on 19 life – what could possibly go wrong? He even gets to have bigger creatures on the board and completely sorts out his mana during his next two turns!

Admittedly, he really is the clear favorite to win the game at this point – but to even my surprise he doesn’t, due to some loose play and the peculiar nature of Theros draft. When Simon makes his Cyclops monstrous, he opens himself up for a large tempo setback if his opponent has Gods Willing (which he does), instead of just adding to his board. Then his opponent shows him what Theros is all about by producing a giant threat out of nowhere, bestowing Heliod’s Emissary. Simon afterwards choses to bestow his Satyr instead of adding an additional creature to the board which would have allowed him to hit back with his Nemesis and chump the bestowed creature – an extremely poor decision, since he takes another 6 damage and suddenly is just dead to the Griffin which comes down thereafter. Simon, in typical good player bias mode, goes for value here by bestowing a creature instead of just playing one, and by taking big chunks of damage instead of chumping and racing. Admittedly, his opponent’s topdecks were very good, but what was really happening here was Simon looking for a way to lose by ignoring all considerations of tempo and board presence, and being succesful with it. Also note how he loses with several manafixers in his hand.

In the second game, Simon is the one to employ the first big unanswered threat, and wins in short order. (By the way, here we see another great example of a Bow of Nylea being practically useless on defense!)

The third game once again is extremely instructive. At first, Simon struggles to sort out his mana – he is succesful with it, but he fails to put up a meaningful board presence in the meantime. Then he ignores the threat of a Wingsteed Rider for exactly that reason, citing that he is already taking too much damage otheriwse, and instead going for his fpfp Gorgon. He gets punished in the most obvious way by another bestowing of Heliod’s Emissary. The additional land he needs to get back into the game shows up exactly one draw too late, and he dies with five cards in hand, three of them being removal which failed to be able to remove the threat he needed to remove. There are a LOT of wrong answers in Theros!

So, overall Simon did practically everything wrong which he could, going for the deck strategy least likely to succeed in Theros draft, not being consistent with it, and then throwing away a game according to his total failure to understand the fundamental dynamics of gameplay in this environment. (I’m not counting his second loss here, since it is highly doubtful that another line of play would have served him better then.)

While this draft video excellently illuminates how good player bias can cause a player to play really badly, it is also a nearly perfect guide to how-not-to in Theros draft. Do not pass up on this opportunity to learn from another player’s mistakes!

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Analyzing published Theros drafts, part 3

To my overview of Theros draft dynamics

To part 1 (about a text-based walkthrough by Kyle Boggemes)

To part 2 (about two videos by LSV and one by Owen Turtenwald)

In this part, I will wrap up the videos on Channelfireball with analyses of a draft by Caleb Durward and of another by Michael Hetrick (possibly better known as ShipItHolla). In part 4, I would get to videos on MTGO Academy by Marshall Sutcliffe and Simon Görtzen, but I’m not sure if this will happen – that depends on the feedback I’ll have gotten then. Just in case that this is the last installment of my series, let me summarize here already: Sutcliffe is largely clueless, but lucky to meet even more clueless players; while Görtzen in his first published draft gives a near-perfect rundown on everything one can do wrong when drafting and deckbuilding (sadly, without acknowledging it in the least), but at least is a better player.

So, about Caleb Durward’s draft:

Caleb had gone on record before describing his approach to Theros draft, and I was very happy to see that he hadn’t fallen for the misconceptions voiced by LSV and Sutcliffe, when I read this:

„…draft is fast, efficient, and focused on synergy“, he wrote – exactly what I had been saying all along (in my twitter feed)!

In that article, Caleb explains how he goes about drafting heroic, and while he is correct about the general dynamics in this environment, and he (and other players) were succesful with this strategy, I’m convinced that his extremely narrow approach will become less recommendable once the format has matured a little more, for the following reasons:

1. He relies on getting a critical number of key cards, which is only possible as long as aggressive white decks are being underdrafted.

2. He is vulnerable to certain effects (bounce, deathtouch), which opponents can exploit once they realize the necessity and the ways to do so.

3. Once the metagame fills with more fast decks, he will get fewer easy wins against clumsy decks, and he is not necessarily ideally set up to win aggro matchups.

I like to draw a comparison to triple Scars of Mirrodin draft here, where dedicated metalcraft and infect decks completely dominated in the beginning, but once the majority of players realized this, became to diluted and hated upon to keep that supremacy up.

Now, if you can get it, the perfect fast heroic combo deck will always be something you want to draft, but going all-in on it from the very beginning will become more and more risky, and you will probably do well to instead go for a more conventional aggressive approach including heroic combo elements, instead of exclusively relying on those. Note that conventional aggressive starts mean that your opponent’s defenses are more likely to be down once you get to your big play, that you still have a good shot at winning if your big play is somehow neutralized, and that you stand a better chance to race another aggressive deck. Theros draft is a mix of Zendikar and Rise of the Eldrazi – it is not like Modern Masters where you had to blindly go for maximum synergy!

About the draft itself:

I cannot find fault with Caleb’s picks until, in pack 8, when already quite likely in WR, he takes a Wavecrash Triton to go with his blue Ordeal instead of a Traveling Philosopher. Of course, the Titan is stronger in the decks it belongs in (either U/x control, or – more importantly – U/x tempo) than the Philosopher (which is essentially replacable by a large number of other 2-drops), but on the other hand, with the Triton Caleb is going at the same time for a color combination he is less likely to end up with (not only because of his former picks, but because heroic comes together much more easily with White than Blue), and for a shell that is not optimallly suited to comprise heroic combos (as I said before, it is better to go over the top in aggro with heroic, than to rely on it as your only way to apply pressure).

Then, I have no idea why he choses Peak Eruption over Ray of Dissolution – that can not be right, no matter what! I’m afraid that Durward is just another drafter who goes on autopilot with his last picks, but even then…

Predictably, he still ends up in Boros instead of Azorius (or even Izzet) – I’m convinced that would have happened even without Anax and Cymede in the first pack of the next booster round – and after several fine decisions is presented with two consecutive choices between Dragon Mantle and Two-Headed Cerberus, while already having 2 Dragon Mantle in his pool. The first time he takes, after some liberation, the Cerberus, which I would have done immediately, but then the third Mantle, which I strongly disagree with!

This is about what I said earlier: I do not like to rely on narrow combos when I can instead go for strong synergies. Dragon Mantle is great in any numbers with heroic creatures, very strong on a Cerberus (the first Mantle only), but at most reasonable otherwise. It’s very rarely a dead draw, since you will almost always be able to at least cycle it (maybe even with the help of an opponent’s creature), but it can still clump your draws somehow as cantrips are wont to do, because they dilute a deck’s density of impact cards (also, even only one mana, especially a colored mana, can slow you down).

Cerberus, on the other hand, is simply excellent with most of the cards your RW heroic deck will be filled with to the brim anyway. Even without a Mantle, an unblocked hound threatens to „combo off“ at any time with a few Titan’s Strength and Battlewise Valor, and it also is a superb bestow target at a good point in your mana curve. It is, at the very least, a creature, and moreover a creature your opponent can never just ignore, requiring them to play in a way which acknowledges the potential threat it presents. A starting hand with 4 lands, two Cerberus and a Mantle is just more likely to win you the game than another with a hound less and a Mantle more (Pharika’s Cure, Viper’s Kiss, Lightning Strike and Last Breath among other cards threaten to leave you without an active creature). In the end, this comes down to my preference for consistency over explosiveness, which I believe is justified in this environment, now that its really wild earliest days are over. Note, though, that I would not necessarily take the Cerberus over the first Mantle, and certainly not if I were still low on enhancers (which isn’t the case at this point for Caleb).

If you do not agree with Caleb’s firstpick from the third booster round – Akroan Crusader over Magma Jet – you’re still far away from understanding this environment! The Jet is good utility, but quite unreliable removal (2 damage is just not enough), while the Crusader is an essential part of the engine which makes yor deck win. In a dedicated RW heroic deck, there is no question at all, but even in a a Boros aggro deck less focussed on heroic, this might be the right choice, depending on your card pool so far. Wheeling the Crusader – an option Caleb mentions in passing – is not something you should rely on now that more and more players learn to ignore the LSV/Sutcliffe conspiracy to declare Theros a slow format.

Picking Heliod’s Emissary over Leonin Snarecaster then again demonstrates Caleb’s preference of going for the narrower combo build instead of the more consistent aggro approach, as does adding a second Chosen by Heliod to his already quite sizable number of enhancers instead of Priest of Iroas (or Lagonna-Band Elder, but a 3-drop isn’t needed as urgently). I like to make sure I have enough early drops to put my Ordeals on, and to pump with the likes of Anax and Cymede, Phalanx Leader or just Dauntless Onslaught. Caleb, on the other hand, instead wants to make sure that his big heroic creatures get REALLY big, and prefers to dig into his deck for combo parts instead of reliably establishing board presence.

When Caleb later picks Ordeal of Purphoros over Lightning Strike, I am completely with him, but I believe that he sells the instant a bit short, which is still a higher pick than most other cards in his pool so far: Yes, he intends to deal damage in big clumps, and he does not plan on defending himself from enemy creatures, but even with that setup, Lightning Strike as removal is important to kill problem creatures (like Sedge Scorpion, or maybe even an Agent of the Fates) or throw off combat math (by removing the last chump blocker; forcing a chump with a bigger creature, or speeding up the clock a turn by going to the dome). The latter is especially important because, given that one’s big threat does not get neutralized (Caleb’s assumption), the only choice the opponent has is to race and chump, making a highly interactive card like this invaluable. In addition to that, there are a million of less likely, but still valid uses (killing the only enemy creature in the mirror to stop the cantrip engine; removing a Xenagos, the Reveler which would produce an endless stream of blockers…) And that is just if you agree with Caleb’s drafting style – in a more conventional aggro build, Lightning Strike is as good as ever (and note the two common red first strikers)! Taking the red Ordeal higher is still correct, because it is absurdly strong in any fast build, but with the white Ordeal, for example, the choice is really close and depends on the exact situation.

It’s funny (and quite inconsistent), that Caleb now takes the generic aggressive Minotaur Skullcleaver over a second Heliod’s Emissary. While I agree the minotaur is very likely to make the cut in the end, here I would have gone for the bestow creature, which is powerful even if only ever played for 4 mana (especially since you plan on getting your one big threat to connect!) If the Snarecaster had been taken earlier, and now the Emissary – wouldn’t that look better? In my book, yes!

With the fourth Dragon Mantle over both Purphoros’s Emissary and Priest of Iroas, Caleb is really pushing his conviction about being able to get away with an incredibly high enhancers to creatures ratio…

Afterwards, Caleb is making a decision which amounts to a clear mistake even following his own philosophy: If you are all about the „build-your-own-monster“-plan, then you HAVE to take that second Gods Willing over the red Emissary! Triggering heroic and pushing through damage are options which make sure that this instant is always useful, but the really important thing is that it prevents you from losing to your opponent’s answers (for a measly single white mana you need to keep open)! Voyage’s End? Griptide? Oh, you blocked with a deathtouch critter? YOU STILL LOSE! Once this type of deck is already set up for the most part, this instant is more likely to make the difference between winning and losing than any other card! (Oh yes, and then it has scry. Want a cookie, too?)

I believe that this pick demonstrates how much Caleb is focussed on his own approach, but neglects to think about how other decks could pose problems for him, and so does the following: He blindly takes a Titan of Eternal Fire, which has no relevance to either his deck or hatepicking, and leaves a Voyaging Satyr in the pack, which is a crucial tool for many green-based decks to keep up with his tempo. Another pick later, Caleb underscores his extreme focus by simply ignoring another Leonin Snarecaster and randomly picking a Feral Invocation instead. Hey, Caleb, that card is a white Goblin Shortcutter, and you could play three copies – is that really not attractive to you?

Still, his card pool in the end is marvelous – I’d take that blindly over any yet-to-be-drafted Theros deck! (This is, though, to a large part because aggressive decks won’t stay as criminally underdrafted as they obviously were in this draft.) Of course, I would have used considerably more creatures than Caleb, and I would have preferred the additional Spearpoint Oread over Minotaur Skullcleaver, and Leonin Snarecaster over Akroan Hoplite, if forced to chose between those – I actually have no idea why Caleb decides exactly the other way, especially given his apporach! Minotaur and Hoplite are generic beaters, while Oread and the leonin lie in the same mana slots and actively support this deck’s main strategy! What was he thinking? Oh, and I would have played more Plains because, you know, I like to play my cards, especially my 1-drops, on time…

About the games: Take a look at Caleb’s very first starting hand, which he admits is close to a mulligan. Now replace on of those Dragon Mantle with a Priest of Iroas. See my point? A very risky, potentially miserable starting hand becomes a blazing gun! But only consistency is consistent…

That Caleb reaches the finals with a couple of slow and/or sketchy hands, and also even a few dubious play decisions, just goes to show how far ahead his understanding of that format was compared to that of his opponents. In the finals, then, he loses the first game to mana screw and a really bad early scoop in a situation he could easily still have drawn out of, and the decider to well-deserved mana flood after a terrible mulligan decision – and also to a bad play which failed to give his opponent the chance to screw up. (Since I have taken to watching draft videos, I still do not believe that I am a better player than I previously thought, but I realized that many other players are a lot worse than I assumed!)

A word about Caleb’s screw and flood issues: Again, the lack of consistency in his narrow deck-building approach has something to do with it. The 16 lands he runs are actually a compromise between too few, if he needs to curve out in the usual way, and too many, if he gets his cantrip engine going. Could he rely on his cantrips, 14 lands would be plenty, but if he cannot and needs to use bestow, 18 lands is what he wants. While every deck has these issues to a certain extent, Caleb’s build exacerbates them.

Now to ShipItHolla’s Draft:

When presented with a fpfp Fleecemane Lion, Michael declines to take it, because he „doesn’t like“ GW and does not want to commit to two colors… The latter would only be a valid point if the power level of the Lion weren’t head and shoulders above the rest of the pack, and the former is just silly, especially as Michael has certainly not enough experience in this format to back this notion up (actually, GW is completely fine, and there really isn’t a color combination you do not want to draft if the packs point its way). He then decides for Purphoros’s Emissary, which is still the inferior choice to Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

See, there is a difference between staying open-minded and being afraid to commit: The former is good, the latter is not. Taking the black card might lead to a broken deck built around it; it might lead to a deck where it is strong to solid, but not overwhelming; and it might in hindsight be a wasted pick, if the draft later takes another direction. The rare is a near broken card which will be very strong in any deck that runs it, although the chance it won’t get used at all is higher. The Emissary is always solid, sometimes really good, and goes in the largest number of possible decks, but still may end up being a wasted pick anyway.

Not going for power with your very first pick is simply wrong, especially in this format. Note that I’m talking REAL power here, not just a slight plus in quality which would be offset by a smaller chance to be usable: I’m talking Fleecemane Lion level power and „strongest-archetype-in-the-environment-if-you-can-get-it“ power! When your fear to „waste“ your firstpick prevents you from using the opportunities it gives you to the fullest extent, you’re not drafting to win; you’re just trying to minimize the number of decisions you might regret later. Don’t fall into this trap! (Disclaimer: No matter how much it might sound that way, this was not meant to be advice for life in general, although I’m not ruling out the possibility that it could be.)

Note that with his (completely correct) 2nd pick Phalanx Leader, Michael is already in a situation where he either has to follow through with a given 2-color combination, or lose either his firstpick or his (in this case, stronger) 2nd pick. Has this minimal delay of commitment been worth forsaking the Lion? If my first two picks in a Theros draft were Lion & Phalanx, I at least would feel like Superman! …and if they were Merchant and Leader, I would still not feel bad, since I’d still have the choice between two very appealing routes (and a less appealing one which makes use of both – unlikely, but not completely out of the question)

Wingsteed Rider over Coordinated Assault is correct in a vacuum (although not in many situations at a later point in a draft) when you’re already RW, and certainly the right choice at this early point, because the Leader is much more important than the Emissary to build a deck around, so it makes sense to strengthen your white base here instead of your red.

Two picks later, after adding a Battlewise Valor to his pool, Michael makes a gross mispick based on a gross misjudgement, chosing Minotaur Skullcleaver (which is his second red card) over Chosen by Heliod. If you have Phalanx Leader, Wingsteed Rider and Battlewise Valor this early, your draft already shows a very clear direction, and additionally considering the red Emissary doesn’t change this at all! I’m certain some players would even argue that the aura is in general better than the haste creature, but when you’re on the way towards Boros (or at least W/x) heroic as clearly as Michael is here, there is no competition.

Regarding the next booster, I like how Michael seriously considers Priest of Iroas vs Ill-Tempered Cyclops! There is a good chance that his deck will, in the end, want the Priest over the Cyclops – but then again, Priest is a card one can hope to get really late and Cyclops isn’t, so unless you are already fairly certain about the exact nature of your deck, Cyclops it is, or at least would be…

…if it wasn’t for Griptide in the same pack! Let us take a look at Michael’s Red so far: He firstpicked the Emissary, and the only other red card in his pool is his (wrongly picked) Minotaur Skullcleaver, which is eminently abandonable if a better opportunity arises – just what seems to happen here! A 7th pick Griptide might be a signal that Blue is open. At the same time, the Cyclops and the Priest are not necessarily indication for Red being open. I wrote about being open-minded vs being afraid to commit just a few paragraphs earlier. Here, as an open-minded drafter, I would test the waters (see what I did there?) by taking Griptide. If Blue continues to flow (okay, I’ll stop that), I will be rewarded with a lot of quality cards for an Azorius archetype with heroic and tempo elements, and if it doesn’t, well, I just lost a Cyclops, which I might not even have wanted over the lowly Priest in that pack.

I’m not saying that losing the monstrous creature did not slightly diminish the quality of our RW card pool, or that it couldn’t happen that this very card sends another drafter behind us into Red – but these are calculable risks one must be willing to take if the chance for such substantial gain presents itself!

Then, I strongly disagree with Lagonna-Band Elder over Portent of Betrayal. 3-drops are usually plenty in all decks, but especially RW which also offers Wingsteed Rider, Observant Alseid, Minotaur Skullcleaver, Spearpoint Oread and Two-Headed Cerberus at common. Since Michael now seems to have finally settled in Boros, there also is no dearth of creatures so far. I don’t value the Elder much – I’ll run it if it fits the curve, but whenever I see a deck with a bulge in the 3-mana slot (which happens a lot), this creature, if present, is probably the first cut I would make. The sorcery, on the other hand, has an unique effect which is especially strong in this environment with its accelerated big threats, and a great option for aggressive decks to finish a game without warning. That it has scry makes it even more maindeckable. Even if Michael believes that he will not run it in the end, he bereaves himself of an interesting option, just to pick up an unexciting run-of-the-mill creature.

It’s remarkable that the later packs still contain Omenspeaker, Lost in a Labyrinth and an 11th (!!!) pick Voyage’s End. Of course, at this point one can not be sure if this shows that Blue is wide open, or rather that this draft table is full of completely clueless morons… Let’s just say that switiching into Blue would not exactly have gotten punished so far.

Beginning the second booster round, Dauntless Onslaught is certainly correct, but I disagree with Spearpoint Oread being the next best choice over Akroan Crusader. I agree, though, that Dragon Mantle doesn’t need to be taken in the second pack, although Caleb certainly would differ; and I also agree that Rage of Purphoros, while one copy will usually make every Boros deck, isn’t in contention. The choice is between Observant Alseid and Flamespeaker Adept, but the tendency is that the final deck will not have enough scry to make the Adept superior, so Michael is probably right here.

Him being right ends, though, when he suddenly picks up Triad of Fates over Ordeal of Heliod. What the… I’m not sure that card is even better! Yes, it can do a million and one funny things once it is online, but it is really slow, not too hard to remove, and it eats mana. An Ordeal, on the other hand, tends to decide games fast, is easy to cast and triggers heroic. There’s being open-minded, and there’s danger of (seemingly) cool things. If the Triad at least fitted the deck’s focus… but being clearly defensive and late-game oriented, it doesn’t at all! It’s the eccentric striker diva bought by the sheik owning a soccer club, who disturbs the fabric of the team and makes it overall worse, even though he’s excellent at what he does. It’s a trap! …and Michael fell for it.

Setessan Griffin over Two-Headed Cerberus makes no sense – either Michael hasn’t yet finally decided against Red, or he has (how silly would that be?), in which case Disciple of Phenax would allow him to embrace his new strategy (and yes, it even comboes with the Triad). Also, while Vanquish the Foul is expensive and does not fit the deck prior to the Triad pick, it is very likely to end up in any deck where the Triad has its place, and still a better option even for an aggressive deck than the 5-mana flyer without the pumping option. Michael’s completely off track by now.

This shows again in Anvilwrought Raptor over Traveling Philosopher & Chosen by Heliod – or even Scholar of Athreos, if the new plan is Orzhov. Michael is so disappointed here not to see cards that he wants that he fails to realize that there are cards which he needs! He then moves into Black once and for all, overrating Cavern Lampad quite a bit, and ignoring a large number of wheeling Akroan Crusader (by the way, the switch to Blue would very likely have paid off in spades).

The third booster round proves that Black is completely superfluous – Michael could have been monowhite, and possibly even with a better deck! In the end, his creation is a little middle-of-the-road-leading-in-no-clear-direction. Michael then proceeds to misbuild it by leaving Traveling Philosopher out – even though his 2-mana slot is rather empty – but cramming both Lagonna-Band Elder in his woefully congested 3-mana slot.

During his games, it becomes very clear how much the Philosopher would have helped the deck – Michael’s draws are slow and clumsy. He still wins his first round because his opponent’s draws are even slower and clumsier.

Michael mulligans a hand he should have kept at the beginning of the second match – I guess he would have kept it if the Elder had been a Philosopher – and deservedly then gets the same hand with one spell less. He loses that one. Let that be a lesson to everyone mulliganing hands which aren’t clearly underaverage!

Second game, Michael puts up reasonable effort to lose via playing his spells at the wrong time, but fails, since his opponent’s suicidal tendencies are even stronger.

Third game, Michael is forced to mulligan again (which is not the same as again being forced to mulligan), has a slow start against a 2-drop, continually misrepresents his role in the defensive/aggressive spectrum in a game where this fluctuates, finally fails a basic math test, and thus deservedly loses. (He might have lost anyway, though.)

Overall, the results of ChannelFireball drafters in their published Theros drafts so far have certainly been less than stellar. I’ll leave it to my readers to judge if that is a commendable sign of honesty, or rather shows a lamentable amount of negligence.

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