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Zero to Draft: Navigating a New Format

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I've drafted triple Theros so many times I've almost forgotten what it feels like to draft an unfamiliar format. Born of the Gods was kind enough to come along and offer a reminder, so now it's time to deal with the fallout. If you're anything like me, you're planning to do 50 to 100 BNG-THS-THS drafts. When you're planning to do that many drafts, you're likely to reach your best results by learning the format quickly. But how?

When I'm trying to learn a format, I consciously make slightly different decisions, even ones that are "wrong," than in formats with which I am very familiar. There are three main things I do in new formats to help me learn more quickly.

1. Play Swiss queues: I'm trying to see as many new cards in action as possible, so I play Swiss drafts in new formats to ensure I get to play three matches no matter what. Getting mana-screwed in round one of an 8-4 doesn't tell me anything about the new cards. EV is important to me, but when a format is new, I'm more concerned with the number of games I'm playing.

2. Prioritize higher-rarity cards: I can be pretty certain a common is better than a rare, but in many cases, I won't know for sure until I try them both. I simply won't get as many chances to draft particular rares, so I tend to prioritize them early in a format so I know exactly what I'm dealing with in later drafts. The same concept also applies to uncommons versus commons. In some cases, however, I may have not have played with a certain common. In a sense, more than rarity, I like to prioritize cards I haven't yet played.

3. Place value on card diversity: When a format is mature, I'm all too happy to draft several copies of the same good commons. This makes decks more redundant and thus more consistent. But early in formats, I think it's better to have one or two copies of a greater diversity of cards. This way, I can see more of them in action, have the opportunity to sideboard in and out where appropriate, and have actual experience when I say one card is more powerful than another.

I've drafted BNG-THS-THS thrice at my LGS and only twice online, so I am indeed still learning the format. Today, I'd like to go through the BNG pack of my two MTGO drafts to give some practical examples of the points above. Let's get on with it.

Draft One

Pack 1 pick 1:

My Pick:

With none of the uncommons or the rare being particularly bomby, this pack was fairly average. Pheres-Band Tromper may have actually been the best pick, since there were two playable cards in each color besides green. I also probably put my neighbor into red by passing Bolt of Keranos.

But I haven't played with Fall of the Hammer yet. On top of that, instant-speed removal is hard to find in Theros. A big part of learning a new format is getting experienced with the good cards, and there's some real buzz about Fall of the Hammer being the best red common. I need to test that theory for myself, so I picked it.

Pack 1 pick 2:

My Pick:

It would have been defensible to double down on Fall of the Hammer, but Siren of the Fanged Coast is another good-looking card that I haven't yet enjoyed the opportunity to play. Siren is also an uncommon, which means I will have fewer opportunities to draft it than any given common. I often use rarity to decide between two otherwise close picks, but especially when learning a new format. I need to know as soon as possible which cards are bombs and major signals, so I prioritize uncommons and rares early in the format, even if I think they're worse than certain commons.

Pack 1 pick 3:

My Pick:

This is a little embarrassing. I had to step away from my computer for a moment, and when I got back I didn't have much time for my pick. I didn't even see the Ornitharch until now. It obviously would have been the right choice, but on the bright side, I already had a five-drop tribute card at this point. I'm not necessarily sold on the mechanic, so I'm not sure I want to have two high-drop tribute cards in my deck, even if they are probably the two best uncommon ones in the set.  On the other hand, Skyguard is basically Wingsteed Rider-lite, and I know that I want that. Since I'm still open on my colors, picking the card with an easier mana cost cost was also a happy accident. But ultimately, I'm trying to learn this format, and Ornitharch is a higher rarity, so I would have liked the chance to play with it. The card looks really powerful, but also seems like the type of card you need to play with and against to truly know how good it is. Oh well, sometimes real-life distractions are a thing. I'll get another chance.

Pack 1 pick 4:

My Pick:

This was very close choice between Elite Skirmisher and Nyyborn Triton, but I stuck to a mantra I lived by during triple Theros: when a pick between two cards is close, always take the one with bestow. I also think that cutting the only blue card in the pack is advantageous, giving me a better chance to wheel the Skirmisher or Sun Guide.

Pack 1 pick 5:

My Pick:

There wasn't anything exciting in this pack, but Oracle's Insight looks like it's worth a try at some point. It doesn't really fit in the deck that's coming together here, but it obviously has a remarkable ceiling. As an uncommon, it's easy to take it over Sphinx's Disciple.

Pack 1 pick 6:

My Pick:

A heroic trigger plus bounce effect seems powerful in this block, and I'm not nearly as interested in trying Mortal's Ardor or Pillar of War.

Pack 1 pick 7:

My Pick:

Deepwater Hypnotist and Oreskos Sun Guide are both tempting picks here, but I once again chose the card with bestow. I have a sneaking suspicion that Nyxborn Shieldmate is less good than those other two, but I've played with both of the two-drops and not the Shieldmate. Again, it's important to me to play with all the cards as soon as possible, so I prioritize unfamiliar cards in new formats.

Pack 1 pick 8:

My Pick:

Cue the Handel!

Pack 1 pick 9:

My Pick:

I'm 99% sure that Retraction Helix is the best card in this pack, but I already have one, as well as a Nyxborn Shieldmate. I'm once again emphasizing a diversity of cards over the "right" pick. I might be giving something up in these early drafts, but learning the format will pay off in the long run, so it's worth it to me.

Pack 1 pick 10:

My Pick:

Hooray for late two-drops! For the record, I will never play Ephara's Radiance. Not even once. Some cards you don't have to play to know they are unplayable.

Pack 1 pick 11:

My Pick:

Sideboard cards are cool.

Pack 1 pick 12:

My Pick:

Maindeck cards are cooler. And look! I wheeled the better of the two white cards from this pack.

Pack 1 pick 13:

My Pick:

In a situation like this, I'll often  take the basic and pass the last two off-color cards in order to send signals of what's open. In this case, these two cards are fringe playable, so I took the instant-speed one to avoid getting blown out.

Pack 1 pick 14:

My Pick:

Lightning Volley is not even fringle playable, but it's uncommon. $0.003 may not seem like much, but Magic and MTG finance are games of incremental advantage.

Pack 1 pick 15:

My Pick:

I could go through the rest of the draft, but Theros is old news at this point. Just for fun, here was the deck I submitted (and took to a 3-0 finish):

Note that while I was willing to pick some questionable cards during the draft, I was much less willing to run those over Theros cards that are known quantities. I place an early emphasis on learning, but that doesn't mean I am not still interested in winning. When it comes to deck building, I'm going to build the strongest deck I can with my pool.

Draft Two

Pack 1 pick 1:

My Pick:

Siren of the Silent Song is probably the best card in this pack, but I'm not willing to commit to two colors this early. Spirit of the Labyrinth is an aggressive two-drop, but not really first-pickable. Interestingly, its ability could be upside but it could also just as easily be downside, so I think it's easiest just to consider it flavor text. Nyxborn Wolf is good, but Ghostblade Eidolon is an uncommon with bestow, so yeah. I'm still completely ignoring tribute cards in favor of more predictable ones.

Pack 1 pick 2:

My Pick:

Baleful Eidolon and Sedge Scorpion were high picks for a reason, and this card just allows all of your creatures to perform in that role. It doesn't trigger heroic, which is a bummer, but it goes any deck, which is awesome! I'm pretty sure it's better than a seven-drop rare or a conditional, sorcery-speed removal spell.

Pack 1 pick 3:

My Pick:

This goes with my first pick and is aggressively-costed. There wasn't much to choose from in this pack, although Retraction Helix may have been fine. I chose to stay on color.

Pack 1 pick 4:

My Pick:

For a second, I stared at the Whelming Wave, trying to figure out if it's better than all the other blue cards. Then I suddenly noticed this pick-four Akroan Conscriptor, and my choice was made for me. This card is nuts, especially with instant-speed tricks. Guess what just moved up in my pick order?

Pack 1 pick 5:

My Pick:

So do you want a 4/3 with downside (the Limited Resources description for Kragma Warcaller) or a 3/1 with upside? I think these are just about 50/50, so I let color be the tiebreaker: at this point I had two white cards and one red card, so I chose to build up a main color to stay open on my second color.

Pack 1 pick 6:

My Pick:

This pack is bad, so I took a two-drop. It's hard to go wrong with that philosophy.

Pack 1 pick 7:

My Pick:

I'm pretty sure this card is fringe playable at best, but there's only one way to find out, right?

Pack 1 pick 8:

My Pick:

With no on-color cards, I took the card with the removal, because duh. I could have gone with the "value" play of taking the two-cent rare, but in this case, 1.97 cents isn't worth as much to me as dodging a removal spell.

Pack 1 pick 9:

My Pick:

I guess I'm dedicated to finding out if this card is good.

Pack 1 pick 10:

My Pick:

A bad two-drop creature is better than a bad two-drop trick, in my opinion.

Pack 1 pick 11:

My Pick:

If I'm red/white, I'm going to be aggressive, so I'm taking the cheaper of the two fringe picks here.

Pack 1 pick 12:

My Pick:

At least I will avoid getting blown out, even if I will never play this.

Pack 1 pick 13:

My Pick:

Bad removal > bad creatures > bad combat tricks

Pack 1 pick 14:

My Pick:

I don't know if this card is good, but I suspect it might be decent, so I'd rather cut it than send a signal.

Pack 1 pick 15:

My Pick:

(This draft converter created by Benjamin Peebles-Mundy. Visit the draft converter today!)

Again, I'm going to skip the Theros packs and just get right to the deck. I managed a 3-0 with this one too, despite lacking basically all the best commons. The deck lived and died based on its rares and uncommons.

This deck was notably worse than the first, but I managed to get there. Note that Nyxborn Rollicker is listed as a spell—please don't play this guy as a creature in anything but the most dire circumstances. Each match went to three games, all were close, and two of the three ended with Ghostblade Eidolon being bestowed on Anax and Cymede. Akroan Conscriptors single-handedly won the finals after my opponent used all his removal on my early drops. Like I said, that card is really good.

Zero to Draft Update

I'm currently batting 1.000 in BNG-THS-THS MTGO draft matches, so my word should be taken as law at this point. That's not actually true, but it certainly has had a positive influence on my mood. I started with similar success in triple Theros, but found myself losing more often as the rest of the community learned the format. My goal for Born of the Gods is to adjust with the community as the metagame evolves, keeping my win percentage consistent even as the format gets solved. Figuring how is the issue. Let me know if you have any tips.

As I mentioned, I've done three drafts at my LGS since BNG was released, two since the last Zero to Draft update. The first of these two I lost in the first round, and it was entirely my fault—I kept a bad seven in game one. If I would have mulliganed to even an average six, I would have won the game easily. The second draft went better and I managed to split the finals.

Trading just isn't happening these days. Theros cards are starting to bottom out, and I'd honestly just prefer to hold almost all of them until after rotation. Modern cards just keep going up, and every time I sell or trade some, I find myself regretting it a few weeks later. The only cards I want to trade out right now are Return to Ravnica-block Standard staples, but I don't have any of those for this project (and my personal stock has all been sold).

So that's where the project stands. I decided I should be including my intentional draws in my record, so I've added that to the stats below. Have comments? Please let me know below or on Twitter!

Events played: 18 total – 15 Draft, one Sealed, two 2HG Sealed
Money spent: $164
Money received from card sales/buylisting: $111.32
Buylist value of trade binder: $149.12
Net money spent: -$96.44
Packs held: 10
Draft record: 28-6-10
Sealed record: 3-1
2HG Sealed record: 5-2-1

4 thoughts on “Zero to Draft: Navigating a New Format

  1. How do you not P1P1 pick Archetype of Imagination (i.e. I win the game)? Also, you picked Siren of the Fanged Coast over Fall of the Hammer, and Fall of the Hammer over Archetype of Imagination, so does that mean you think Siren > Archetype?

    1. I haven’t seen Archetype of Imagination in play yet. It obviously has the upside to win games on the spot, but it’s also a 3/2 for 6cmc. I think it’s dangerous to evaluate cards based on their best-case scenario. This card is basically awful if you’re losing (unless you’re losing to flyers you can’t block, I guess), and I’d rather take a card that is going to be good more consistenty. I’m open to being wrong, but I don’t consider this Archetype a high pick right now.

  2. I just wanted to say I’m super grateful for a breakdown in picks with an eye towards learning the format.

    I noticed in your second draft you narrowed into your colors much faster. Was this because you received cards you had played already or because you felt you had learned the format better?

    1. Getting that late Akroan Conscriptors was really a signal that red was going to be open. I also haven’t played the card and it may be one of the most insane in the set, so I was pretty anxious to make it work if I could.

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