A few observations regarding things I talked about earlier
1. Changing my draft simulator recommendation
Earlier this year, I mentioned (link leads to a German entry), that I found MagicDraftSim.com to be superior in practically every way to Le Bestiare. While this is still true regarding everything I talked about there, I just now realized that MagicDraftSim has a crucial weakness which isn’t easy to see: The AI drafters are much worse than those of Le Bestiare! Now, don’t get me wrong: I am well aware that you cannot expect these draft simulators to adequately emulate the dynamics of real drafts with real persons. However, they are still a useful tool to get a basic feel for a draft environment and see if key cards for certain strategies are likely to show up in sufficient numbers (oh, and also to kill a few minutes while waiting for a download or something). As such, you can usually expect to draft decent decks with reasonable regularity – actually, you will probably even end up with especially strong decks most of the time, since you should be a bit cleverer than the AI drafters, better at exploiting underdrafted colors, as well as at building your curve and finding synergies. On the other hand, there will be quite a number of drafts where you will end up with an unsatisfying deck without having done anything wrong, just because some AI drafter ruined your draft with questionable picks. (This is actually good troubleshooting practice, since RL drafts also often go badly for similar or other reasons, and it pays to learn seeing the signs for this soon enough that one can react by adjusting one’s strategy.)
Well, that was true for Le Bestiare, but unfortunately, it just doesn’t seem to be true with MagicDraftSim! I simply didn’t notice at first – I didn’t use either simulator much for quite a time. Then, when Innistrad was new, I again drafted a few times, finding out that I obviously had a hard time to piece together playable decks in that format. At first I attributed this to the fact that I was out of practice, and to Innistrad being especially hard to draft, but I just wasn’t able to improve, and that confused me. But only now, when I once again did a few drafts resulting in absolutely abysmal decks, I hit on the idea that the issue might not lie with me, but with the program! I tried a few drafts on Le Bestiaire – and, sure enough, suddenly everything I had tried to do and failed before worked like a charm! I was not scrounging for playables anymore no matter how carefully I chose my colors, I was no longer unable to build a reasonable mana curve with my creatures, and I could even attain a balance between cards supporting a theme and cards exploiting it! In short, it looked as if I suddenly knew how to draft again…
MagicDraftSim has a lot of really nice and useful features which Le Bestiare lacks, but in the end they certainly do mot make up for the undeserved frustration of almost never being able to draft a good deck. So, unless your goal is to improve your frustration tolerance, I take back my recommendation: Le Bestiare is still the better choice!
2. My best-designed cube so far
I’ve drafted a few more times with Crusade in the meantime. I’m still amazed how well this cube drafts and plays, and how high its replay value is! I’m really proud that I was able to design such a complicated and original environment which works so unbelievably well. No doubt there are a few things which I only got right by accident, though, so I prepare for the eventuality that new cubes I’m designing will have issues I do not foresee yet because I attributed the success I had with Crusade to the wrong reasons. Also, of course I want to try out new ideas in the hope that I can forego a few of the principles Crusade is built upon and still end up with a great cube. However, Crusade is a wonderful example of what is possible in cube-design for four-player drafts, has shown that doing all this creative work is actually worth it, and sets a high bar for future endeavors.
One thing which caught my attention is that so far not only each supported color combination has been played at least once, but also that every little theme I wrought into that cube has been featured prominently in a deck at least one time – while you cannot rely on getting the cards for such a strategy if you decide on it beforehand, if you pay attention to the contents of the boosters, you will often be able to create a deck with one or two of these synergies. This means probably that I got the ratio of supporting cards per theme right, which I wasn’t sure of at first, since I squeezed quite a lot of themes into that cube. I guess only using half of the cube’s cards each time also was a good idea – it seems to provide a good balance between too little and too much variance.
Talking about balance: Crusade seems to be balanced admirably with regard to the relative strength of color combinations, but also with regard to the balance between aggressive and controllish strategies. The most enjoyable aspect of this cube, however, is probably how forgiving it is to unexperienced drafters without eliminating the advantage experienced drafters have. So far, after testing with several different draft beginners, not a single one ended up with a deck which was abysmal – everyone got the opportunity to at least compete against the others and even win a few games, although overall drafting experience was reflected reasonably accurately in the outcomes. That is another important (and really hard to attain) balance: Neither frustrating worse drafters, because they realize they don’t stand a chance, nor better drafters, who rightfully expect to fare better than the others.
Someone from WotC R&D (I forgot who – might have been Aaron Forsythe) once claimed that, in game design, fun was more important than balance. That was, really, an asinine remark – just like saying speed is more important for a rollercoaster than safety! Obviously, I agree that balance alone doesn’t guarantee fun in any way, but it is the prerequisite which actually enables fun to be had – an environment which is out of balance is the equivalent of a rollercoaster which crashes: certainly not fun at all. Yes, balance is a tool, not the goal, but it has to come first to provide the fundament for fun. I suggest you keep that in mind when you design your own cubes.
Let me expand a bit on the procedure of setting up Crusade for drafting: I’ve realized that it pays to shuffle the contents of the 6 boxes thoroughly (it’s easy to overestimate the amount of shuffling already done and ending up with a really skewed distributions between cards set aside and cards included), but also to prepare the boosters by neither shuffling commons nor rares together (which actually saves time), but instead construct each booster in the following way: 1 card each from boxes 1R & 2R, 1 from the 16 rares not used yet (shuffled together), 2 cards each from boxes 1C, 2C, 3C & 4C and 1 from the 16 commons not used yet (shuffled together). This improves collation remarkably without causing a noticeable amount of additional work.
If you find the time to do 2 drafts on the same day, you might want to just use the cards set aside before the first draft. This has a few advantages: For one thing, it saves time – otherwise you have to sort all drafted cards immediately to recreate those 6 boxes and shuffle everything again, but here the cards for the second draft are already shuffled and can immediately be used to build boosters with (provided that you were savvy enough to keep the cards from different boxes separated). Secondly, you are guaranteed that every card in the cube will show up in a booster on that day, so that none stay unused.
On the other hand, maybe you don’t like the idea that you know which cards are going to be in the draft pool this time (kinda defeating the purpose of a cube which is bigger than a draft pool to create some uncertainty). It also means that it is probably impossible that a certain strategy which worked especially well in the first draft (since there was a large number of cards supporting it) can be made to work again. Also, if by accident or due to poor shuffling, the selection of cards for the first draft showed a clearly skewed distribution, this will obviously also be true in the second draft. I suggest that this shortcut to recreating the cube isn’t used too often, but then again, it will probably not be the rule that you find the time to do two drafts in a row.
3. No more German summaries
See, when I began to blog in English, I wrote that I would include a short German summary at the start of each entry, so that German-speaking readers who were not comfortable with reading English would know what I was talking about and decide if it was worth their time trying to decipher my text. After a few entries, I stopped doing this. At first it was just an oversight, but soon I told myself: “Noone seems to miss this feature, and it is extra work. Why should I keep it up if no one complains?”
Well, a few months have gone by, and no one complained. (Also, the numbers of siteviews on Zeromagic hasn’t gone down, so there’s no indication that disappointed readers just ragequit instead of expressing their discontent.) No one seems to miss the German summaries, so I’ll save myself the time. I just wanted to spell this out in case someone was actually wondering.
4. The 3rd set in Innistrad block, Avacyn Restored, will be another large set, drafted all by itself
This will have two main effects: There will be a relative shortage of cards from Innistrad and Dark Ascension (since these sets will be drafted for a noticeably shorter time than other 1st and 2nd sets from a block), balanced by a better availability of cards from Avacyn Restored (for obvious reasons). Also, playing standard will become more expensive AGAIN (unless there is an unrelated and yet unknown effect countering this).
I am not going to argue much here – I did all that years ago when I explained why mythic rares would OBVIOUSLY make playing standard more expensive (from today’s perspective, you might be baffled to hear that this trivial prediction was challenged enthusiastically by many people, some of them usually quite level-headed, back then!) I will just restate the basic idea: All other things being equal, the cost to play Standard competitively correlates with the number of boosters which must be opened to get playsets of all cards (assuming a perfect distribution). It’s that simple. Take (one of) the rarest card(s) from each set, and find out how many boosters you will have to open on average to get 4 copies. Repeat that process for all standard-legal sets and add these numbers up. Compare the results for different standard environments, and you will have a rough guide of how expensive it was or is to play in these environments. Of course, additional factors do influence that cost, but since they are unrelated to the number, size and rarity distribution of sets, that is no counter-argument.
So, Wizards once again increased the amount of boosters which need to be opened to provide one player with a standard card pool. Well, I can just say, I’m glad that I got out there!