[This is an offering from Zach McNair, fresh off a Top 16 and a Top 32 finish each during his PTQ: Paris season. Zach actually wrote this article for us more than a month ago, so please keep that in mind as you share in the comments whether you’d like to read more from Zach 🙂 – Dylan]
When I first began playing Magic competitively, I was awful. Then again, so were most of the people who were just starting into the competitive world with me. And that was just when playing Constructed. At one point we even believed that you could play a 40 card deck in Standard, unknowingly having looked at the Limited tournament rules by mistake.
As time progressed, we learned more about how to construct decks, how to win games through careful play, and how to play against your opponent. However, we still had not been truly introduced to the Limited world. We mostly just Pack Warred or played games with decks constructed from random cards in our collection.
When I was finally brave enough, I did a little research and learned the basics. Choose one card from the first pack, pass the rest, and keep picking until the end. It seemed easy enough. Needless to say, my first draft was a train wreck. And the second. And many more to come, for about a year. Granted, I was 12 at the time and no one expected any better. However, I did. I wanted to play better, to learn how to best my opponents. I looked up to a pair of local players, and still do to this day, and I tried to learn from them.
It was a slow process, but over the course of the next year, I managed to reach a point where I could win at least one match in every draft. It was a small achievement, but it was something. Then something big happened. I discovered the simple yet effective acronym B.R.E.A.D. This became my motto, and though I was still not winning entire drafts, I was managing a winning record. I still had a long way to go, but it all started with that simple acronym.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, B.R.E.A.D. is meant to be a basic code to follow when choosing what cards to take in a draft and when.
B – Bombs. This usually refers to rares and mythics like Steel Hellkite and Elspeth Tirel. Some commons can be included in this category, but generally they will be uncommons (Golem Artisan) and rares. These are the cards that when played will swing the game in your favor quickly and significantly. When backed up properly, you win the game when they resolve. They are the most important cards to have, and are first on the list to be taken.
R – Removal. This is the category that I like the most. Removal is everything from Hornet Sting to Galvanic Blast to Day of Judgment. Obviously some types of removal are more powerful than others, but every card that can kill a creature is worth taking notice of, and picking up early on in a draft. For the purpose of our acronym, you should only be passing up removal for bombs, and nothing else.
E – Efficiency. Here lies what you seek to pick up after your first 2-3 picks, and what makes up the bulk of a Limited deck. Efficient creatures and spells are not necessarily aggressive ones, but they give you more for the mana you pay than other cards at the same cost. Cards such as Sky-Eel School, Perilous Myr, Glint Hawk Idol, and the [card Copper Myr]mana myr[/card] all fall into this category. They are also the most difficult to decide in which order to take, because they are numerous compared to the other categories.
A – Aggression. Creatures such as Dross Hopper and Carapace Forger fall under this category. Spells that are included in this are combat tricks suck as Untamed Might and Seize the Initiative, along with spells like Exsanguinate. They are sometimes necessary to fill the curve, and are good as the last 1-2 cards in a deck, but they are not a priority. These cards are better than the last category however.
D – Dregs. These cards are usually the last 1-2 picks you will get, or if the packs are weak they can be the last 3-4. Things like the basic land of the pack, Blunt the Assault, and other cards fall here. These are the unimportant cards that should never make your deck.
This approach is a quick and easy way to determine pick orders when sitting down to draft a format you don’t know well, a new format, or sometimes is just an easy way to determine the orders. However, in some sets, you find a fault in this line of thinking.
Scars of Mirrodin, the most recent set and the place from which I draw my card examples, has proved to invalidate some of the ideas in B.R.E.A.D. Granted, most of the time the order will hold true. Steel Hellkite is awesome in almost any deck, and Sunblast Angel is insane in any white deck.
The set as a whole focuses so much on synergy, such as metalcraft and poison, however, that you cannot always follow this order. I have found myself taking an artifact creature over Turn to Slag in a RW or UR metalcraft deck that was just one or two artifacts shy of being complete, quite a few times. Granted, Turn to Slag is not the best removal spell in the set, but it is still removal.
This leads to some interesting archetypes that are sometimes underrated, though have recently gained popularity because of drafters such as Ari Lax or LSV. The “Dinosaurs” deck values bombs such as Molder Beast and Alpha Tyrranax very highly, and plays every removal spell it can get its hands on. The deck is extremely powerful, but can be overrun by a more synergistic deck.
Synergistic decks often do one thing, and they need to do it really well. In Scars Limited, UG metalcraft, BR Furnace Celebration, and most of all Infect fall into this category. The best example is the Infect deck. It seeks to overwhelm the opponent with quick creatures that can quickly leave the opponent on the back foot, often winning with Untamed Might or Proliferate shenanigans. Every card in the deck is designed to do exactly that, and while removal remains a priority, normal bomb cards decrease in value. The only exceptions are cards like Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, Contagion Engine, and Hand of the Praetors. However, when presented with the choice between an Alpha Tyrranax, which can be a bomb, and even a mediocre poison creature such as Contagious Nim, the Poison player will always choose the poisonous creature.
Sometimes, even in normal decks, players can make an argument for taking early game cards over late game bombs. For instance, in a recent posting on ChannelFireball.com David Ochoa took Arc Trail over the bomby Kuldotha Phoenix when heavily set in Red.
On the flip side, the deck you are drafting can turn certain cards into bombs that wouldn’t normally be. For instance, Flesh Allergy is an okay removal spell on its own. It has the ability to deal with every creature out there. When paired with Perilous Myr or a Furnace Celebration, Flesh Allergy can become an instant bomb that leads to a 4-6 point life swing and can kill two of your opponents creatures in one fell swoop. If you have 2 or so Perilous Myr[/card, or a [card]Furnace Celebration, and are relatively aggressive, I would consider taking Flesh Allergy over a lot of late game bombs, even cards like Myr Battlesphere and Steel Hellkite. Most of the time I will still take the bomb, but there are times when I have taken the more synergistic card and have won drafts because of it.
The idea behind all of this is that while B.R.E.A.D. is an excellent guide to follow, it’s just that: A guide. It is not perfect, and while you can follow it to the letter, you can’t always expect to win without having a little flexibility in your picks and without determining what would be best for the deck you are drafting.
In closing, I would like to demonstrate this theory by taking you through a recent draft where I heavily deviated from the B.R.E.A.D formula, and the results of the draft.
Pack 1 Pick 1:
This is quite the pack. Grasp of Darkness, Necropede, and Turn to Slag are all excellent cards. Turn to Slag is not as good as the first two because it is a slower card, and not the way I want to start out a draft. However, Grasp is by far the most powerful. Even though Necropede has the upside of being colorless, I am more than willing to take a small risk for a large reward of playing an incredible removal spell. Here our only options fell in the second category of B.R.E.A.D., removal, so there isn’t much else to talk about.
Pack 1 Pick 2:
This pack has two interesting bombs in Genesis Wave and Volition Reins, however I don’t like taking either of them. I like Genesis Wave, but it is too early for me to take it. If I get it late with some Myr and dinosaurs, I will gladly play it, but I am not going to commit to that pick 2. And while Volition Reins is powerful, against infect it is usually awful, and even against other decks it is usually mediocre unless a lot of things go right. And I don’t want to take a triple Blue card after a double Black one. The pick here is Perilous Myr. An argument could be made for Fume Spitter, and for Tel-Jilad Fallen, but Perilous Myr is simply better. Even if I end up infect it is still a good card that can make the cut. Plus, removal on a creature is always good.
Pack 1 Pick 3:
Here we have a far less interesting pick. Perilous Myr is easily the best card in the pack. Now that I have two artifacts, I am going to be watching out for black metalcraft cards, and Barrage Ogres. Either way, I would like to be B/x Metalcraft or Goodstuff.
Pack 1 Pick 4:
Okay, we have a very interesting pack. Sky-Eel School is an incredibly powerful flier, and pick 4 is a good sign that something is open. I am not usually a fan of UB, but if enough artifacts show up it is an excellent tempo deck that can burn out the opponent with Bleak Coven Vampires after swinging in with tons of fliers. I would like to mention here that Cerebral Eruption would be the B.R.E.A.D. pick, being removal and burn (fitting a bit into the aggression category), but I don’t like it. I have never been happy when casting Cerebral Eruption, and have rarely been unhappy when my opponents are.
Pack 1 Pick 5:
Another tough pick, it is between Bleak Coven Vampires and Sylvok Lifestaff. I like both of the cards. Usually, given these cards, I would take the artifact. It is a solid card and is cheap, making hitting metalcraft easier. However, I don’t have any metalcraft cards yet, and the Lifestaff won’t be great in the Sky-Eel School midrange control deck. The Vampires, however, will really shine in that type of deck. For this pack, the Lifestaff would have been the B.R.E.A.D. choice, because it is the more aggressive of the two cards, and the Vampires aren’t really a bomb. However, I like the Vampires because they will lead to a more synergistic deck.
Pack 1 pick 6:
This pack does not have much left, though I am surprised to see a Ghalmas Warden this late. However, the Soliton is a nice gift this late. If we pick up a Heavy Arbalest, I will be very happy, and even without it I like the Soliton. My Pick: Soliton.
Pack 1 pick 7:
Well, this pack is full of the dregs. I am once again surprised to see a decent white card, but the Nihil Spellbomb will be the best card for our deck, cantripping and turning on metalcraft earlier. My Pick: Nihil Spellbomb.
Pack 1 pick 10:
Apparently no one at the table likes Genesis Wave, and while I could take Plated Seastrider, I think I will find enough playables and take the Wave. I just wanted to point out that if I had 2 Myr, and was in Green, I would be a very excited person and would gladly go in on a tabled Genesis Wave.
There wasn’t much else for Pack 1, other than a late Turn Aside, which is actually a card I have been really impressed with. I don’t necessarily like running it main, but I really like having it in the sideboard, especially against Turn To Slag if I have Heavy Arbalest.
Pack 2 pick 1:
Pack 2 pick 2:
Well, this pack is lacking in cards for me. Darksteel Myr, Moriok Reaver, and Plated Seastrider are all playable. Here, I have to follow B.R.E.A.D. and take the more aggressive card, which is actually the better card on defense as well. My Pick: Moriok Reaver.
Pack 2 pick 3:
Looking back on this pick, I probably should have taken Silver Myr. However, I couldn’t resist Lumengrid Drake. That card has always been nuts for me, and is exactly the kind of card my UB metalcraft deck wants. Plus, I have faith that I will have enough artifacts in the end. My Pick: Lumengrid Drake.
Pack 2 pick 4:
And here is a good reason to take the Drake, as we have our wonderful Silver Myr sitting and waiting to be taken. Here, B.R.E.A.D. would dictate either taking the Necropede or Fume Spitter, because both are removal. However, this deck wants artifacts, and wants to be able to cast the big spells when it matters, so Silver Myr is the choice. My Pick: Silver Myr.
Pack 2 pick 5:
Well, here I follow B.R.E.A.D. Instill Infection is a card that I really like. It offers a combat trick, an answer to Plague Stingers and [card Embersmith]Smith[/card]s, and is overall a good card. Removal it is. My Pick: Instill Infection.
Pack 2 pick 6:
And we have hit the dregs again already. Sunspear Shikari once again goes late, but there is nothing for me. I don’t want a second Turn Aside. Trigon of Thought is unfortunately the pick, though I have never liked the card and it will probably not make the cut unless I end up short on playables. My Pick: Trigon of Thought.
Pack 2 pick 7:
More interesting packs. Here I had the choice between Instill Infection and Stoic Rebuttal. There wasn’t much else in this pack for me. I like Stoic Rebuttal, however with only Sky-Eel School as a double Blue card, and Bleak Coven Vampires and Skinrender as double Black, I would like to stay more focused on Black so that the mana will be easier in the end. My Pick: Instill Infection.
Pack 3 pick 1:
Sometimes you open well. Steel Hellkite is exactly the kind of card that I like to play. It is a bomb, and in this case it is also an artifact for our deck. There is nothing in the pack that even comes close. My Pick: Steel Hellkite.
Pack 3 pick 2:
An interesting set of cards. Trinket Mage can currently only fetch a Spellbomb, and while not bad, that is not what i want my cards to be doing. If this were still pack one, I might be tempted to take it on the hopes of picking up a Lifestaff or Darksteel Axe, etc. However, Leaden Myr fits perfectly into the deck, giving us another early artifact and another way to hit 4 and 5 mana a little earlier. It is also better than the Silver Myr Here, because I have one already and want to be able to consistently cast Skinrender. Interestingly enough, the only cards that fit into B.R.E.A.D. here are Trinket Mage and Exsanguinate, both cards meant to outclass your opponent and take them out of the game quickly. My Pick: Leaden Myr.
Pack 3 pick 3:
Talk about a gift!! Heavy Arbalest with two Solitons already? Yes please! I have never been unhappy to have an Arbalest, even if I know my opponent is holding Turn to Slag. I can usually still get a one-for-one trade with the Arbalest, and if left unchecked it can quickly dominate the game. It is also slightly better than Chrome Steed, because they are both artifacts and the Arbalest provides a more consistent and powerful way to win.
Pack 3 pick 4:
Coming up on this pack, I have 11 playable artifacts. With that few, I am tempted to take Grindclock. However, I really don’t think it is good enough to take over a flier. I am going to take the Lumengrid Drake and gamble a bit, hoping that I can get at least get 2-3 more artifacts from this pack. My Pick: Lumengrid Drake.
Pack 3 pick 5:
And voila! Moriok Replica is everything that I want, an artifact, a creature, and a way to get out of land runs. And I am really hoping that one of these two Bleak Covens (this pack and the previous one) will table, however unlikely that seems. My Pick: Moriok Replica.
Pack 3 pick 6:
There aren’t many choices here. If I had taken the Grindclock, I would consider Thrumming Bird, but as is I have very little to abuse with it. The Fume Spitter is good in this case, because it gives me a way to stop early rushes and gain tempo when my opponents have Myr or Smiths. My Pick: Fume Spitter.
Pack 3 pick 7:
Here we have a two excellent choices. The first time I looked at this pack however, I snap picked the Replica before seeing the Rust Tick. It is still a close pick in this case, but I think the Rust Tick is actually better in general. But, I took the Neurok Replica on first sight because it is yet another card that this deck really wanted. B.R.E.A.D. overruled again. My Pick: Neurok Replica.
Pack 3 pick 8:
Unfortunately, the replays were lost for all of the games except the first one, but I will go over the highlights.
Game One: UW Metalcraft Aggro:
I keep a hand of Swamp, Island, Leaden Myr, Instill Infection, Lumengrid Drake, and Scrapdiver Serpent on the play. My opponent leads with two Island and a Riddlesmith, while I draw Island and Soliton and play the Leaden Myr on turn two. Turn 3 I played a freshly drawn Moriok Reaver. My opponent tutors up a Darksteel Axe with Trinket Mage, while I draw a Swamp and pass the turn with Instill Infection mana up. They played a Sunspear Shikari and attacked for 2. I Instill Infectioned the Shikari, drawing a second Soliton. At 18 life, I play Soliton, which can now stop the Shikari and I am feeling pretty good. My opponent plays a Prototype Portal imprinting Chrome Steed, which worries me a little. I draw Silver Myr, play it and Soliton, and attack for 3. My opponent takes it and goes to 17.
He plays a Gold Myr, digs with the Riddlesmith and passes the turn leaving 4 mana open. I draw an Island, play Scrapdiver Serpent, and attack with both Solitons. He goes to 11. Chrome Steed appears from the Portal at the end of my turn.
He passes with no action. I untap, draw Steel Hellkite, and attack with the Serpent. Post-Combat, my opponent at 6, I play the Hellkite and pass. He forgets to activate the Portal because of an F6 through my turn. He untapss, drop Golem Artisan, and again leaves 4 mana up. I untap, draw Nihil Spellbomb, and play Lumengrid Drake targeting the Chrome Steed and my opponent concedes.
Game Two was similar, except my opponent was stuck on lands and I had a turn 5 Scrapdiver Serpent. Nothing too interesting.
Game One: I get blown out by Cerebral Erruption with Myrsmith tokens out the wazu to kill me. There wasn’t much else to this game, because he hit the one thing left in the deck that could kill Scrapdiver Serpent, and killed Steel Hellkite the next turn with Turn to Slag.
Game Two: I keep a hand with Skinrender, Neurok Replica, Lumingrid Drake, Leaden Myr, Swamp, and Island. My opponent again has Cerebral Erruption, followed by Turn to Slag, but I used the Replica in response to the Eruption to bounce Skinrender, which let him kill the Drake and a Myr. I followed it up with a Soliton that was [card Turn to Slag]Turned to Slag[/card], and then followed up with Moriok Reaver and Replica. My opponent played an Auriok Replica, which I killed with Skinrender, and he only had an Origin Spellbomb left for creatures. He died in short order.
Game Three: Less exciting hand because of a mulligan to 6, but it had Perilous Myr, Lumengrid Drake, and a Leaden Myr with three lands. My oppenent has a slow start, and I draw the Fume Spitter on turn two to kill his Myrsmith before it gets out of hand. I drop Perilous Myr the next turn, draw a couple of lands, while my opponent plays an Origin Spellbomb and Auriok Replica. Eventually we both get the ball rolling, and trade some blows. I get a decent amount of cards in my hand thanks to two Instill Infections. I hold back a little, having only 2 creatures on the board, because of Eruption. He has it again, and hits a Lumengrid Drake. I follow up with Nihil Spellbomb, Silver Myr, and Soliton. He has Turn to Slag for the Soliton (I am seeing a pattern…), but I follow up with the second Perilous Myr and Lumengrid Drake to bounce a Myr Token. Not too much longer I get a Sky-Eel School and they die in short order.
Round 3: UR Furnace Celebration
Game One: My opponent never finds a Furnace, and I have Grasp to kill their Barrage Ogre. He is defeated shortly after by a large Serpent.
Game Two: At this point I am a little sad, because the deck has done nothing but win with good cards, and nothing much on interaction except for Lumengrid Drakes. However, this game changes that. I run out Myr, Perilous Myr, Heavy Arbalest, while my opponent plays a Spellbomb and a Furnace Celebration. I follow up with Bleak Coven Vampires, draining them for 4. He kills a Myr with the Spellbomb, and plays a Myr of their own. I play a Nihil Spellbomb and follow up with a second Bleak Coven Vampires. A couple turns and a Lumengrid Drake later, I have have triumphed and won 8 packs.
Though only the last game showcased the power of synergy, I still feel like this is a good example of how to draft a powerful deck where a lot of cards get better based on the deck you have put together. Happy Drafting!