One of the most critical skills in Limited is card evaluation. Knowing the set before you sit down at the table is helpful, but when you crack you first pack and are suddenly confronted with 15 cards, it’s easy to get lured in by “sexy” or “money” cards. It’s also easy to make the wrong pick under the pressure of the clock. For the first couple of picks you should often just take the best card in the pack. It never ceases to amaze me how much that basic strategy pays off. Another key element of Draft Strategy is BREAD. The acronym stands for Bombs, Removal, Evasion, Aggro and Duds. We’ll get more into that as we go. If you learn to draft using these two tools to guide you, your decks will get better, and your win percentage will go up.
In today’s article, we’re going to look at a few Pack 1, Pick 1 (P1P1) scenarios, and evaluate the pack without any pressure to hurry. Let’s get right to it.
The first thing you should always do with a fresh draft pack is look at the rare. In this case, we have Sanguine Bond. It’s a pretty good card, but it’s impossible to activate on it’s own. This is a perfect example of a “build-around” card, and while it is certainly worthy of a first pick in packs 2 or 3 if you can use it, it’s not a great idea to use your first pick on a card that requires you to get others to make it good.
Next, we look for Bombs. Bombs are cards that are win conditions all by themselves. For example, in M14, Jace, Memory Adept and Sengir Vampire are bombs. Here, we don’t have one. None of these cards are good enough on their own to win the game.
The next step is to look for Removal. Here, there are no hard removal spells, either. We do have conditional removal in the form of two cards; Wall of Frost and Master of Diversions. Both are creatures, which is good. The surest way to lose a draft is to not have enough creatures. A good rule of thumb is at least 13 creatures. Master of Diversions is a 2/2 that removes a potential blocker every swing. Wall of Frost blocks pretty much everything on the ground, with the added benefit of “freezing” that tapped creature for a turn.
Which one is the pick? That’s largely dependent on taste. If you like tempo or controlling decks, Wall of Frost is the way to go. If you prefer to turn dudes sideways, Master of Diversions is a fine pick. I’d go with the Wall of Frost, as I like blue in this set, and in this pack, there are no other blue cards. If we can cut blue hard, hopefully our neighbor on the left notices, and we will be rewarded with lots of blue cards in pack 2. It’s never too early to think about signaling, just don’t let it be the only reason why you make an early pick.
What about the slivers, you ask? Sure, you could pick the Predatory Sliver, and try to force the deck. Lots of people would do that. But what if you don’t see enough of them for the rest of the draft? Maybe the guy on our right opened a Megantic Sliver, or a Battle Sliver, and he’s going to take them all out of packs 1 and 3. Then you just spent your first pick on a 2/2 green bear. Is that where you want to be?
Again, we get a bad draft rare in Quicken. In a UWR Flash or Control deck, I could see playing that card. But in draft, how often do we really need to do that? For Bombs, we don’t really have anything. Air Servant is bomb-y, but not quite in the “play and I win” category. Opportunity is also really good, as card advantage can win games. There are two Removal spells in this pack, Liturgy of Blood and Celestial Flare. Liturgy is better, as it is unconditional removal with a Dark Ritual attached. At 5 mana, it’s not going to help us right away, but don’t let that scare you. Grisly Spectacle and Trostani’s Judgement were both high picks in their draft formats, and both were similarly expensive. Celestial Flare gives your opponent a choice in what to sacrifice. After game 1, they won’t make the mistake of attacking with just their bomb creature again. So it’s good, but not as good. Also, there is a really good chance that one of the other black cards in this pack wheels back to you (Nightwing Shade is a really powerful black common), so I’d take Liturgy of Blood.
Here’s the next one:
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This pack is pretty simple. The obvious pick is a Bomb, Liliana’s Reaver. A 4/3 deathtouch that makes a Diregraf Ghoul every time he connects with your opponent is a great card, and you should happily take it and pass the pack. This pack even has the advantage of not having any other black playables, so you are already signaling your color choice.
Let’s do one more:
This is the kind of pack 1 that can give you fits. Nothing in this pack is obviously the way to go. There are no Bombs, and the rare isn’t the best. Clone isn’t great in draft, unless you know you’ve got something you want a copy of, or there’s something worth copying at the table. Not really a great first pick. The Removal is mediocre at best. Wring Flesh is a combat trick, Plummet often goes near the end of a pack, and Essence Scatter (yes, counterspells are “removal”) isn’t so incredibly powerful that you should first pick one. Moving down to Evasion, we see that none of the creatures here have any. No fliers, no trample, no intimidate. The last step before Duds (which this pack has aplenty) is Aggro. Which creatures in this pack can help me kill my opponent? That leads us to what I would pick here, Pitchburn Devils. A 3/3 for 5 is definitely overcosted (meaning that the mana cost isn’t worth the power and toughness we’re getting), but at least when he dies, Pitchburn does 3 damage to something, enabling him to effectively trade up with creatures as high as 6 toughness. I wouldn’t be excited about picking him, and I certainly wouldn’t wed myself to red, either. But you’ve got to take something.
I could also see drafting the Elvish Mystic. Mana dorks are always helpful, and green is a good color to be in for almost any draft format. So if you are yelling at me in your head that I’m an idiot, for passing it, I see your point. However, my counterpoint is that Elvish Mystic is a really bad late game topdeck, whereas my pick isn’t. Picks like this are largely a matter of taste.
I hope you found this little exercise interesting and helpful in some way. I’ll leave you with one last pack. What would you choose?