NEIL MELVILLE Web Site
Is there a draft in here?
The window is open, and a cool night breeze blowing through the blinds is making the faint humming whistle of a large reed instrument. This is the night of the fabled magic draft... The exotic wind that carries the dreams and wishes of the clay painted shamanistic hordes and answers the prayers of the devout and just... But this is not the kind of magic draft I wish to talk about. No, I am going to talk about a Magic the Gathering Online draft tournament.
Those of you familiar with the card game known as Magic, probably already know that a draft is a fun little tournament format where the players gather in a circle and 1)open a pack of random cards 2)choose 1 card from the pack and pass that pack to the next player in the circle 3)repeat step 2 until all the cards in the pack are gone and 4) repeat steps 1-3 until each player has 3 packs worth of cards. From this pool of cards each player builds the deck with which they will compete in several rounds of 1-on-1 match-ups.
This style of playing Magic is known as a Limited Format, because you are limited to playing with the cards you get at the beginning of the tounament. the other format of sanctioned play is Constructed Format, where each player can build their deck from any cards in their collection.
I gave up constructed deck tournaments a long time ago. My card collection and play habits are far too casual to be competitive in that arena. But doing well in a Limited Format, where each player has an equally small and random card pool with which to work, has always been within reach. I find that the Friday Night Magic drafts and Pre-release tournaments are quite enjoyable, and I often finish at or near the top of the event.
But I was not always so active in playing these casual tournaments. For years I played primarily the "Honeymooners" casual style. My wife likes this because there was no time wasted on deck construction at all. You just grab 2 tounament packs, shuffle and play. You can choose one of two cards each time you draw, and ditch the other. You also have the option to draw the card that your opponent ditched instead. Each game was very much about playing the cards that came, and you would see card interactions that you might never choose in a constructed format.
The Online Advent
At the 2002 GDC, I attended the collectable object game presentation by Richard Garfield. He (and Skaff Elias) spoke much about the Magic Online project. At E3 of the same year, I went to check it out at the Wizards of the Coasts' room. This new game product seemed like a great way to keep up my casual interest in playing Magic, without all the hassles associated with trying to maintain a collection. And for me, the unforseen side benefit was always being able to find a casual tournament -complete with prizes.
When the Mirrodin Block premiered at the end of 2003, I also stated to seek out more offline casual tournaments. My wife joined me in these, and for a little over a year this was a source of some shared Magic time. I maintained activity in Magic Online for almost 3 years before she got her own account. I am not sure why it took so long, seeing how so completely committed to it she is now. It does make me a little sad that we have not played paper Magic together for over 3 months.
We played casual games online for a while, but she has developed a much greater affinity for the sociality and economics of this Online community than I ever did. Nowadays, when we do a draft tounament together, it means that she signs up to play draft, and I sit next to her at the computer and coach her in her draft picks, deck construction, and game plays. It is a bit of a challenge, because we have slightly different play styles. And I have learned that what is absolutely the right pick or play for me, won't always work for her.
She logs in and joins the queue for a 4-3-2-2 (prize payout for 1st, 2nd, etc.) CCB (Kamigawa Block 2 packs of Champions and 1 pack of Betrayers) Draft. Now we sit at the computer to wait for the critical mass of 8 (+3 minutes), and wonder what cards the packs will bring this time. Not every draft will yield an uber-Black spirit deck with a Foil Kokusho and 3 Devouring Greeds (but man, were those some sick games...). But with a little metagame preparation and some skillful picks it is not too hard to avoid a really bad deck. This means you have to know what the cards are, what they can do, and how they interact.
Currently Green Spiritcraft can be a strong deck theme, but neither of us have a lot of experience with it, as it doesn't really suit either of our play styles, and so we tend to avoid it. It is usually not an effective strategy to play outside your personal strengths, but it is good to experiment a little to understand different options.
The draft begins and the first pack has a Kite, Black Honden, Thief of Hope, Befoul, Cloudskater, Hearth Kami, Scuttling Death, and sundry others. There is a chance that the next person to see this pack will draft black, even if we take a Black card - There are just too many good black here. But the other colors just aren't juicy enough, and we set ourselves up for a spiritcraft deck and take the Thief.
The next choice boils down to Pull Under, Moss Kami, Nezumi Ronin, and Kami of the Hunt. The big trampling Moss Kami could be a is a good finisher creature, but we follow the spiritcraft theme and take the Kami of the Hunt. I am a little wary of passing another black removal card.
Next pack presents A Yamabushi's Flame, Cage of Hands, Gibbering Kami, and another Moss Kami. Both Kami have a form of evasion, and would be a great addition to the deck. But the allure of removal proves too strong and we take the Flame. There was a desire to draft red instead of green from the beginning, but not committing to what were 2 solid fist picks could prove to be a big mistake.
Pack 4 offers nothing to compete with a Rend Flesh, and Packs 5 and 6 yield nothing better than a Gutwrencher Oni (not so bad, but some ogres would be nice), and a Blood Speaker (fortuitous?). Pack 7's best cards are A River Kaijin (not really going blue), and Sachi (mana acceleration is one of green's redeeming qualities).
Next we pull a Hana Kami over a Hearth Kami, further solidifying the green presence. Packs 9-11 give us the Kite, Serpent Skin, and A venerable Kumo. And the last 4 packs in this round give us nothing we can use.
Before we continue, lets take a look at what we have so far: Mostly Black, with some green and a Flame. We have a Kite, and if we pick up some Sakura Tribe Elders and Petal Mane Baku, we could easily splash for some red removal... But it is still iffy.
We open the first of the next packs to find an Earthshaker, Glacial Ray, Scuttling Death, and a Burr Grafter. Earthshaker is an amazing card, but it is not a splash by any means.&nbs