Insider: Zero to Draft – Tough Decisions

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Zero to Draft Series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

The concept of picking a card in Draft due solely to its monetary value is not new. To some it’s just a practice that makes good fiscal sense, and to others it’s an affront to everything that makes the format sweet. To prevent these types of picks, sometimes events are run with a rare redraft based on standings, allowing the winners to also pick up the most expensive cards. This is a reasonable way to maintain the “purity” of drafting, but discourages new players from attending since it eliminates any reasonable chance they have of coming out ahead.

Every LGS’s customer base is different, so each store is going to run events that best suit its needs (well, in an ideal world). Of the three shops in my town, none of them have a rare redraft. To be honest, I’ve never actually seen an event run this way. The feel-bad associated with opening the best card in a set and then losing it due to reasons (sometimes) out of one’s control is going to drive away a lot of casual players, and each LGS in my area has apparently come to the conclusion that traditional drafts are the way to go.

At a Theros draft last week, I made the following sequence of picks:

P1P1: Agent of the Fates (passing nothing of real consequence)
P1P2: Gray Merchant of Asphodel (passing Keepsake Gorgon)
P1P3: Temple of Triumph (passing Gray Merchant of Asphodel)

I sent a real signal to my left that black was going to be open, despite my intention to keep drafting it myself. If I were the guy to my left, I would have been annoyed (and he was), and it’s just exacerbated by the fact that I passed what many consider to be the best common in the set, in a circumstance where it went perfectly with my first two picks, and in favor of a card that buylists for all of $3 (trading around $5).

In the second pack of that draft, I opened Anger of the Gods, and I slammed that down for the monetary value, as well. The difference, though, was that there was nothing else in the pack that my deck wanted. It’s easy to take a card worth a few bucks when you’re giving up nothing for it, but did I make the right decision in the first pack?

There are always people on both sides of the argument in these cases. Despite my actions indicating the contrary, I’m not sure I really know where I fall on the spectrum. Put me in this situation over and over again and I’ll probably make each choice about half the time. It really all comes down to mood and confidence, right? In this case, I considered locking in a chunk of my draft value with one pick to be worth it. In many other cases, helping bolster a sweet deck has won out over a card of even higher value.

This is the deck with which I ended up:

It performed quite well in the first match, but I sputtered out in game three of the second match and was knocked out of the tournament. As it turns out, drawing Gray Merchant would not have saved me in that last game. So no harm done, right?

Well, maybe. It’s easy to say—and I truly believe—that giving up one pick in a draft isn’t going to make or break your whole deck. In this case, though, I probably did more harm than usual by so firmly putting my neighbor to the left into black, thereby cutting me off of goodies in pack two. As it turns out, I got most of my good blue cards in that pack, but could I have been mono-black? Maybe or maybe not, as I noted my neighbor also ended with only the one Gray Merchant, which means I didn’t forfeit a chance for a three- or four-Gray Merchant deck. Still, the few bucks might not have been worth the signaling fiasco I caused.

It all comes down to a personal limit of what you can pass. For me, this limit varies from draft to draft, and I guess it was a little lower this time. I might make a different choice in the future, but I could also see myself using the same reasoning to come to the same conclusion. It’s easy to be results-oriented and say it was wrong because I lost the draft, but my deck turned out fine. If I had won the draft, I probably wouldn’t be writing on this topic right now. But it’s not like the deck I drafted was incapable of winning, and there's no guarantee that taking that Gray Merchant would have made me win the draft.

Let me know what you would have picked in the comments. If you would have taken the Gray Merchant over the Temple, what card would have been enough to force you to pass the Gray Merchant?

The Week Before

That was last week, and if only that deck could have treated me like the one from the week before:

This might be one of the best decks I’ve run in the format, and I did manage to split the finals of the draft in which I played it. You know things are going well when the card you’re considering first-picking wheels, which is what happened with an Ordeal of Thassa (foil even) in this draft.

I’ve been playing on Tuesdays instead of Fridays, which is nice except for the fact that trading is significantly better at FNM. As a result, I’ve only made one trade in the last two weeks.


1 Firedrinker Satyr
1 Bident of Thassa (Release Party promo)


1 Prime Speaker Zegana
1 Prognostic Sphinx

This was well before the pro tour and the mono-blue devotion deck running Bident, but even with that factor added in I still like this trade. Zegana has the most room to grow of any of these cards, and I’m still not convinced Prognostic Sphinx isn’t Standard playable. Even if Sphinx doesn’t do anything until after Return to Ravnica rotates, the price is so low that there's very little risk to picking up a bunch of these.

That’s it for today. Feel free to harangue me in the comments, as I probably deserve it. Here’s a summary of the Zero to Draft challenge so far:

Events played: Six total – four drafts, one sealed, one 2HG sealed
Money spent: $90
Money received from card sales: $63
Buylist value of trade binder: $59.96
Net money spent: -$32.96
Packs held: 0
Draft record: 8-3
Sealed record: 5-3

(And if you aren't familiar with the series yet, you can read the intro here.)

6 thoughts on “Insider: Zero to Draft – Tough Decisions

  1. Redrafts are a dangerous beast. Usually only experienced players draft that form of tournament. What my local playgroup has established on non-draft days is a redraft with a pot. This is an event where people can pacdeck and pay a bit for prizes. After the draft store credit is distributed and there is a redraft. Anyone who wants to keep their card can put $5 store credit into the “pot.” Players who get picks in the redraft can pick a card or $5 credit. This way there’s a middle ground where players are safe when they open marquee cards and players are satisfied passing money for the strength of their deck.

  2. I normally prefer the “keep what you draft” approach, but we’ve got a store in my city that has the most unorthodox draft payout that I’ve ever heard. I feel it totally discourages new players from participating:

    Rare Redraft AND pack prizes for top finishers!

    The biggest “winner takes all” draft there is. Get the best cards in the packs… then get more packs!

  3. I feel like with a draft, a money rare pick needs to be worth more to you than the potential prizes. If you were in an 8-4, you know you need to win 2 rounds to get 6 packs (or 4 if you’re unlucky and the opponent won’t accept the split). If you’re in a 4-3-2-2 (why?!) then you need to win 1 round to get 2 packs (~7.5 tix to a bot).

    Real life prizes are obviously different: you can trade a pack at whatever dollar value your store sells them at.

    So you get a guaranteed $3 buylist card, or you bet on your playskills and try to win more packs.

    It’s easy to say slam the 2nd Gray Merchant and shut off enough black that while you lose the Gorgon, your left doesn’t move into the color at all. I just know personally that while many people say mono-black is strong in draft, I for the life of me cannot figure out how to draft a mono-black deck and every attempt I’ve made has left me with a control deck that requires me to summon every last bit of skill in me to win a game, let alone a match. So you’re right, I’d take the money rare too.

    Guaranteed value vs Expected Value (EV): something to consider when “going infinite”.

  4. I would have taken the Merchant. This early in the draft, you want to cut and cut hard. I would’ve taken Merchant over any $5 or maybe $6 card.

    This decision also depends on your prize payout, actually. If you need to spike the event to win prizes (say the payout is 12 packs to first place and nothing to everyone else), the Merchant is worth far more equity than the Temple. If the payout is very flat (3/2/2/2/1/1/1) then you slam Temple.

    1. I would have taken the 2nd Gray Merchant as well. Depending on your opponents’ colors and the competitiveness of your store, the Temple might have even wheeled back to you.

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