Monday, December 28, 2009

My Draft History and a Few Tips

I really need to start drafting online more. But until I do, I will keep drafting with real people in real settings. I think it's more fun. Also, I'm better at it than online drafting. Several reasons for this I think:

1. Real people you meet at FNM or at random tournaments are on average worse drafters than people who plow through 8-4s everyday (go figure)
2. Real life has less lag
3. Real life has less misclicks
4. I have a psychological fear of competing against people on the internet whom I cannot see (does anyone else even get this? It's like a subtle feeling of dread or of being judged, which can interfere with decision-making) Maybe I have some kind of problem. I feel like I'm playing against a silent mask which I know there's a person behind, but it doesn't say anything. And it weirds me out. You probably have no idea what I'm talking about. :/
5. The interface is hard to get used to -- well, for me it is; I hate everything about it. The shortcuts, the buttons, the pop up windows, the graveyard, the phases. Everything.

So for me to get used to MTGO drafts is going to take some work. :/ Maybe I need a coach. el-oh-el

Here are some tips for drafting Zendikar for those of you who are just starting out or need help getting to the finals of your drafts. (If you know everything there is to know about Zendikar drafting then it won't help as much.)

Let me just tell you what I did. Then maybe you can do the same.

1. Only read good draft reports
The three best draft reporters online right now are LSV (his YouTube videos), David Ochoa (Channelfireball), and Olivier Ruel (SCG Premium). I watch videos by others, including Mananation's JBoots (also on YouTube), who is a good drafter, but his videos are not as good as LSV's. I think it's going to be impossible to top LSV's draft videos. He explains everything well; he plays superbly; his cat meows in the background, which is cute. He tries different techniques and strategies; he tries out new rares; he does card evaluation. And he makes bad jokes and puns! Seriously, his videos can't be beat.

He approaches Magic with a certain dignity and intelligence that many lack. He has a weakness for blue, control, and greedy picks, but he gets away with it all the time. Luck Skill Victory, indeed.

Anyway, I have read every draft report by Ruel and have watched every video by LSV. This is a good place to start for anyone lost with Zendikar. I go over Ochoa's picks but skip his match reports because they're a bit long and detailed, and I'm a little ADD... I want the most important information in condensed form. Like swallowing a pill. I don't hold the pill in my mouth and wait for it to dissolve.

2. Read the articles on pick orders.
There are probably more articles on this than I'm currently aware of. Right now I stick to LSV's set reviews and Oliver Ruel and Manuel Bucher's dual discussion on draft picks. Here, Olivier and Manuel's articles REALLY shine because you can immediately discern how the two drafters differ in personality and preference. It gives you the sense that multiple strategies work as long as you HAVE a strategy or a synergy in mind.

I love Olivier's work because he defines particular ARCHETYPES for draft (instead of just saying color pairs like UR or GW).

3. When a new set comes out, go over all the cards at least once. Know what they do.
This is a bit of homework. But it helps when you're brand new to a set. It helps to go over the visual spoiler, so that you know what every card looks like. When I went into my very first Zendikar draft, I had a leg up because I had done this, with particular focus on White and Blue. I won the first draft with a GW deck. It helped that I went to the Prerelease also, so I had already played around with the cards. In particular, I found out that Steppe Lynx is pretty good!

4. Know when to rare draft and when not to 
I don't see rare drafting as a bad thing usually. I have first-picked my share of fetch lands. But I have also passed my fair share of fetchlands. I also will gladly pass Nissa Revane or Chandra Ablaze because they're not great in draft.

The trick is knowing when to do it. I will rare draft when I open a very mediocre pack with no real signals in any direction. I will not pass up: Nighthawk, Machete, Burst Lightning, Disfigure, Hideous End, Journey to Nowhere, Plated Geopede, Marsh Casualties, or any cards that you generally first pick. If the pack is full of 4th and 5th pick cards but no good 1st or 2nd picks, I'll take the money! Sure! (Even Pros raredraft every so often. :/ On 8-4s even!)

It's more than this, though. Some people like taking rares just because they're rare. But some rares are really mediocre in the format. Roil Elemental, Halo Hunter, Lorthos, Iona, et cetera. I don't mind passing these because I've played with them (or someone more experienced has told me), and I know they're not that great. This is where you REALLY have to know your pick orders. Pick the BEST card, not the rarest card.

5. Familiarize yourself with the colors and the color pairs
This is easy if you read articles. If you don't, read them! They're informative. BR and BU and RW are really good. Mono-red is really good. Mono-green is good when green is underdrafted. UW is okay. BG and UR and BW are incredibly unpopular (not as good). Multicolor Allies works with lots of color fixing and good allies (usually based in green for mana fixing with white or red for a good ally base). Sometimes with blue for Raptors or Sea Gate Loremaster.

There's more detail than this in real articles. So you should find 'em. Because again, it's not just drafting color pairs; it is about drafting archetypes. That means you want some cards much more than others. (In monogreen, those cards are Nissa's Chosen and Timbermaw Larva. But you wouldn't pick these cards as highly in all other green decks you draft!)

6. Be aware of your curve and your mana base
This is true for any draft you do. You don't want a deck with all 5 and 6 drops unless you have multiple Greenweaver Druids. You don't want BB and WW two-drops in your deck at once. Keep an eye on how many mana symbols are on the cards you're picking. Don't let it get too crowded in both directions.

7. Know how to read signals and know when to switch colors
This is the hardest, obviously. But it really ALL comes down to card evaluation and pick order, as with everything else. You have to know your pick orders by heart. Generally, a signal happens only when REALLY good cards come later than they should. 4th or 5th Burst Lightning? Maybe you should be in red. Really late Harrows or Grazing Gladeharts? Green is underdrafted at this table. (Doesn't mean you should switch necessarily, but you should keep it in mind.)

It's harder to know when a color is going to dry up because certain colors in Zendikar are really deep. You're going to get late red and black playables, but that doesn't mean the colors are open. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the two drafters to the right of you are both in those colors. Realize that Black and Red are going to be popular no matter who you're drafting with, and play according to that.

However I will still first-pick good black or red cards because if given the opportunity to go black or red, I will gladly take it. If I am given the opportunity to cut one of these colors off completely, I will do it. (If the color dries up I will switch rapidly.)

One thing I like to do is to generally pick the same colors for the first three picks if there are good picks to choose from. I'm not going to first pick a Disfigure and then immediately go for the Burst Lightning that comes by just because it's there. If there's a good black card, like Surrakar Marauder or Gatekeeper or something, I would rather pass on the Burst. (If it's Geopede I might take it instead however; that card is just very good!)

8. Try different strategies and find one that works for you!
Everyone is different. Everyone drafts differently and has different tendencies. The pick orders, as always, are just guidelines. Some picks are very strict, however. Plated Geopede is BY FAR the best common in Zendikar, and I don't doubt that. (On the other hand, if you REALLY prefer drafting white, Journey to Nowhere is not an embarrassing second.)

Don't be afraid to experiment. One draft, try forcing green. Another draft, try cutting a color when passing left and see how you are rewarded pack two. Or try out rares you are not sure about. Try to draft control once or twice to see if it works. Try forcing Allies (if you open a good rare Ally). I suggest not randomly forcing Allies, though, it doesn't usually work.

9. Of course, during the games, play tight! 

If this was all stuff you already knew, sorry! It's all pretty basic advice you can find anywhere online... except for SCG Premium articles you have to pay! Awww! But I think they're worth it just for the draft stuff.

Next time I may go into more detail! Next time! Perhaps! :) I think I will go draft now...