The Birthday Draft Deck

If you know what you do and get a little lucky, you can win a draft even with a decidedly mediocre deck, as I showcased in my last entry. Sometimes, however, you just need to be unbelievably lucky – and in rare occasions, you actually ARE. This is a short report on one of those cases.

After my last won draft, I went 2:1 in a swiss queue yesterday, and given that I was color screwed with my GW deck there in every single game except one, I should be happy. Then, I felt too tired to enter another tournament (weekend activities) and went to bed – but I couldn’t sleep and, shortly after midnight (which meant it had just become my birthday) found myself in a draft queue again, this time an 8-4 (still my choices here are based on what starts first).

My draft didn’t exactly begin auspicious – I moneydrafted a Nicol Bolas (well, I’m running low on tix, even though I still possess a few M13 boosters) without feeling guilty about it, since the strongest card in that pack would have been your choice of Evolving Wilds, Encrust, War Priest of Thune and Veilborn Ghoul (probably the Priest). Then I took Garruk’s Packleader over nothing quite as interesting. The following boosters were both weak and nearly evenly distributed, so that there was no reading of signals possible. I think I followed up with Welkin Tern, Centaur Courser and Wind Drake, and after that – well, maybe a Deadly Recluse or such – the boosters were EMPTY. I concentrated on cutting GU and noticed at the very end of the round that there were a late Guardians of Akrasa and an even later Silvercoat Lion – the closest thing to a signal, but it was obviously too late for me to switch now.

I opened a Rancor in the second round and then found extraordinarily strong White coming from the left. At first I took a few good GU cards, but then these colors (especially Blue) dried up and I found myself valuepicking dual lands (my MTGO casual decks really can make use of them – most of them still run nearly exclusively on basics), while there was STILL very strong White in the packs. In hindsight, I could have drafted a monster deck if I switched to White earlier, but there was actually no point in this draft where it would have been correct to do so. If the boosters in the first round are weak and people cannot find and signal their colors, it means mayhem for the whole table! I hated a Silvercoat Lion somewehere and then stared in disbelief at an 11th or so pick Griffin Protector, which I took over nothing worth mentioning.

When I found no playable blue, green or colorless card in my first booster of the third round, I gave up all hope and valuepicked my third dual land. This time I was completely cut off from Green, could snatch up a few blue flyers – and then, with the last 6 or so picks, took the white cards which no one seemed to want, because I realized I just would not be able to build anything resembling a deck using just two colors. So, what did I do? I built the three-color beatdown deck with 18 lands, of course!

7 Island
5 Plains
5 Forest
1 Sunpetal Grove
1 Jace’s Phantasm
3 Welkin Tern
3 Silvercoat Lion
1 Deadly Recluse
1 Watercourser
1 Wind Drake
1 Centaur Courser
1 Yeva’s Forcemage
1 Griffin Protector
1 Spiked Baloth
1 Battleflight Eagle
1 Garruk’s Packleader
1 Unsummon
1 Rancor
2 Titanic Growth
1 Safe Passage
1 Switcheroo

I feel obligated to list my complete sideboard for reference:
Guardian Lions
Kraken Hatchling
Mind Sculpt
Liliana’s Shade
Veilborn Ghoul
Kindled Fury
Cleaver Riot
Bond Beetle
Bond Beetle
Duskdale Wurm
Serpent’s Gift
Nicol Bolas
Dragonskull Summit
Drowned Catacomb

Oh yes.

By the way: I never drew the Sunpetal Grove or the Switcheroo; never drew a card off the Packleader, of course never had a 5/5 Jace’s Phantasm and was able to pump my Griffin Protector exactly once. I only sideboarded a card once (Plummet for Safe Passage against UW) and never saw it. So – how did it go?

I crushed three opponents in a row 2:0 each, won the draft and 8 boosters (and my second qualifier point in this season – no idea what I should do with those), sold the Bolas for 3 2/3 tix and got three dual lands and a Rancor for my casual decks. There’s only one explanation: MTGO knew that it is my birthday!

Well, okay, some factors contributed. My first opponent was monoblack, exalted creatures, Tormented Soul, Liliana’s Shade and all, but he never had any removal for my flyers, and my ground creatures ran over his blockers with Rancor, Titanic Growth and the pump effects from Forcemage and Eagle.

My second turn opponent was RGW (at least those were the basics he had out in the first game), but only managed to start out with Mogg Flunkies and Goblin Battle Jester, while I played out a creature every turn, and when I saved my Spiked Baloth from a Turn to Slag with Titanic Growth, that was it in the first game.  In the second game I stalled on three Plains for an eternity, just having a Lion out – but he stalled on three Mountains so long that he actually had to discard twice, and I found my second color first and easily won with a board of creatures against a board of no creatures.

My finals opponent was the only one who seemed to have a decent deck, but this time, the shuffler just loved me. I could curve out in three colors both games; always had the pump spell when I needed it and was able to outrace his UW exalted deck nicely since I just had the optimal play nearly every round.

See, obviously the weak boosters in round one caused everyone at the table to have subpar decks, and at least against my first two opponents, I might actually have been the favorite (still had lucky draws nonetheless)! As for the finals, the lesson to learn (well, I knew it already, but maybe you don’t) is: If a three-color deck draws its mana as smooth as if it were a two-color deck, it will usually beat the two-color-deck (although that is admittedly not fair).

In the end, after crediting the enormous amount of luck I obviously had, it still comes down to what I said about this environment six weeks ago: It is about curving out and keeping your tempo with pump spells – and that is exactly what I managed to do! You should usually try to curve out in two colors for obvious reasons; but if it works, it works, and I’m not complaining.

Oh, and just before he conceded, my finals opponent insulted me and claimed that this format was the less skill-based ever. I couldn’t disagree more: In only 8 drafts, I managed to improve my rating by 80 points (I’m at 1811 now, which is really okay for someone playing only occasionally and never in premier events)! M13 draft is an environment where you have to evaluate your options and your drafting plan with every pick and have to construct your deck while you draft it – unlike in archetype-driven environments where you have to commit to a strategy early and then either get the cards you need or don’t. Drafting and deck-building skills are heavily rewarded, and gameplay is about tempo and card advantage. I understand that players used to cards telling you how to play them or flat-out winning the game by themselves feel a bit lost here; but this is an environment where my skills shine, and I guess I will be enjoying it for quite a while!

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3 Comments on “The Birthday Draft Deck”

  1. “Oh, and just before he conceded, my finals opponent insulted me and claimed that this format was the less skill-based ever. I couldn’t disagree more: In only 8 drafts, I managed to improve my rating by 80 points”

    Of course you would disagree with that statement after winning a bunch of drafts. Draft formats are always skill-based as long as you win in them. ;)

    I still don’t know what to think of this format. Obviously there are a lot of fun cards in it, the bombs are less obnoxious as in recent sets, and you can draft a great number of different decks.

    But at the same time I can’t help but feel a little helpless in most of the games I’ve played. Since the format is all about curving out, as you wrote, it also feels very draw-dependent to me. Since the format is very fast, your opening hand is a lot more decisive than usual, making it very hard to mount a comeback if your opening hand is worse than that of your opponent. I also don’t like what Exalted does to the format, because it makes blocking such a horrible strategy, thus removing interaction.

    I get that the skill in this format lies not so much in the actual gameplay but in drafting and deck construction. After all, you first have to draft that deck with great curve and timely tricks. But let’s be honest: Drafting a good curve is not that hard.

    Obviously I am biased myself, as this was the first weekend I managed to get a substantial number of drafts in, and I lost A LOT. I still think I drafted and played reasonably well (for my standards, anyway), but there were just too many games I couldn’t win by any stretch of my imagination, because I simply got outdrawn. Granted, I did take more mulligans than in my entire life, but still.

    But it’s also entirely possible that there is that one small piece of knowledge about this format I just haven’t grasped yet. Time will tell. Maybe I win a bunch in my next draft and suddenly the format becomes extremely skill-based :)

    • As always – winning is skill, but losing is bad luck!

      But seriously: Winning streaks which are too consistent to be sheer variance are a good indicator that a strong skill factor is present, and I believe the difference between my rating dive during Avacyn Restored and my rating resurgence with M13 is significant, even if I got a bit lucky overall (since I only post when I won a draft, you obviously get to read more about my lucky days).

      You may be right that in other formats actual gameplay matters more – since that is my weak point (mainly due to my inability to concentrate hard enough) it makes sense that it affects my performance less when I am succesful. However, I noted the following about my games:

      1. I was able to identify several tactical mistakes my opponents made which weakened their position or flat-out lost them their games. I am not talking about extremely obvious errors, but things like incorrectly identifying who’s the beatdown, misjudging threats when using removal, making bad trades, missing out bluffs I simply could not have called, not playing around rather common tricks they could have afforded to play around and the like. Maybe “simple” Magic based on tempo and card advantage is actually not that simple at all… (Oh, and I sometimes also noted my own mistakes, but that is not the point here.)

      2. Although the games are very tempo-based and sometimes quite fast, they actually routinely go into turns 8 to 12. That was even true with my RW aggro deck ending its mana curve at four. This format is NOT Zendikar. A good curve will usually put you in an advantageous position in the midgame, but it will seldom end the game before that midgame starts.

      3. Comebacks are possible, even with decks dedicated to be the beatdown, and even without high-impact rares like sweepers. I had a number of such comebacks myself (and I usually have the faster deck) Once again, this is not Zendikar.

      Maybe there is something you still have to figure out about that draft, and maybe it isn’t just a missing piece but more about going deeper with the things you believe you know. Finding the right colors, signalling other colors to your neighbor, identifying your deck’s focus, chosing the correct picks, shoring up holes, making hatepicks, tightly building the deck, refraining oneself from taking too many mulligans, maximizing your winning chances during gameplay, sideboarding intelligently – there is a lot of opportunities to make decisions which seem reasonable, but actually hurt your chances of winning.

      Luck is a fickle mistress, and I cannot count on further winning as consistently as I did so far, but I feel a lot more in charge when drafting M13 than in any other draft format (excluding only my own cubes). When I have a bad deck, it is always because the boosters were so weak that all or at least most of the other players also have bad decks, and I only rarely encounter single cards I cannot deal with. This is a skill-based format.

      • Just to illustrate that point, I just had an UNBELIEVABLE match with GW (splash Searing Spear / Goblin Rummager) against UB where every single of three games had at least (!) 2 noticable comebacks – best match of Magic I had in a long while! Alas, I didn’t have the better end, because, in the last game, he topdecked dead on board an Essence Drain into an empty hand to finish me off.

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