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By: MirrorMage, Daniel Corradi
Apr 04 2008 11:43pm
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Brace yourself.

Today's article is going to be different.

Today's article is 34,000 words. Take that John F. Rizzo

Today, we're going to take a break from our regular weekly program where I dance a merry Irish jig and you chuckle, laugh, throw change and maybe even peanuts.

You see, today we're going to learn something. We're going to try to improve our skill at magic. I know these are scary terms for the casual player (I recoil in fear when someone says "meta game" or "tempo"), but walk with me here. This article may very well ruin me, but if you go away knowing a little bit more about limited, then my purpose on this planet would have been complete. (Well, purpose this week at least. I just miss 3rd Rock from the Sun that's all.)

First, a back-story. It was a Saturday night in the clan chat room and someone suggested a queue rush. Everyone agreed on a Coldsnap 4-3-2-2 draft as the desired format. Me, Hollow, DjDark, and KevMoney attempted to coordinate our efforts. The following dramatization shows what happened (For production value purposes DjDark will be played by Keanu Reeves):

KevMoney: Okay, everyone get in the queue.... now!

MirrorMage: Can someone lend me a ticket?
KevMoney: Okay, I’m in.
Hollow: Me too

MirrorMage: I’ll pay you back real quick. I'll dance.
KevMoney: You’re not in Mirror? Okay, I’m out.
Hollow: Me too.
MirrorMage: Now I’m in. Five people in the queue.
KevMoney: What? You got the ticket?
MirrorMage: No one else is in the queue? Okay, I’m out.
KevMoney: I’m in.
Hollow: Me too.
DjDark: I know kung fu.
MirrorMage: Wait, and are we in or out?

KevMoney: I’m out.
KevMoney: Wait, no in. MirrorMage: Ughh… I don’t know if I’m in or out. I’m getting pretty bad lag.
KevMoney: OK

The draft fired (with all of us thank god), and the fun began. First pack I had a choice between Panglacial Wurm, Coldsteel Heart, and Skred. I went for the removal, and that just about ruined me.

After the draft finished, I was ready to kick back and watch the big game on TV league matches, but then I had a brilliant idea. What if I asked for the deck lists from each player in the draft? What if instead of shrugging this draft off like an annoying girlfriend wanting to put flowers on her grandmother's grave, I sat down, concentrated and tried to analyze this draft to see what I did wrong. (In the end I did both. I am now single again.)

So, I tracked down each player and asked for their deck lists. All of them were happy to help out, therefore each of these people are officially a "cool cat" in my book. Though in the real world of social hierarchies, that is essentially meaningless. In fact, it might actually make them less cool, but that's beside the point.

The Decks

MirrorMage (1606)

I'll start with my own. As I mentioned before, I was determined to cling to the only sure facet I knew about Coldsnap: red and green are the colours to be (It's so easy to remember, it even rhymes!). Under no circumstance was I prepared to leave my comfort zone. It doesn't necessarily mean I'm a bad drafter, it just meant that I favoured consistency and colours I was already comfortable playing. It's like being a Creationist in a science fiction convention; you don't want to wander far from safe territory lest Trekkies beat you down.

I attempted the land destruction variation of green and red, picking three Icefalls and two Cyroclasms along the way. My strategy was to destroy an opponent's mana base early and hopefully overrun him large creatures he can't effectively trade with. However, I wasn't able to get enough acceleration to consistently hit a turn three Icefall.

djdark01 (1558)

Dark wanted everyone to know that he rare-drafted. That explains the five rares: Tamanoa, Hibernation's End, Allosaurus Rider and two Panglacial Wurm. Though, surprisingly enough, they all fit his deck. Tamanoa works well with the three Skreds and four snow lands.
What Dark lacked was consistency. He should have cut one or two lands (he already had acceleration), added one or two more red cards and attempt to stall the board using Martyr of Ashes, buying time before he could play his Panglacial Wurm or Allosaurus Rider.

MyNameWasBob (1792)

Bob drafted a deck chocked full of synergy and an outlined strategy to win through the air using four Krovikan Mist. Two Adarkar Windform served to get rid of anything that might block the way. The three Martyr of Sands and three Surging Sentinels meant that Bob could easily stall the board from his opponent's larger creatures. Even with synergy, the deck becomes even more powerful with the inclusion of three bombs: Rimefeather Owl, Darien, King of Kjeldor, and Vexing Sphinx.

Ringo_Rama (1702)

Ringo went for an almost mono black deck, only splashing blue for Rimewind Taskmage, Thermal Flux, and Adarkar Windform. The one thing that stands out in his deck is the sheer amount of removal: three Chill to the Bone, two Deathmark, two Krovikan Rot and three Disciples. The only problem is that Ringo only drafted a single snow land, which meant that Zombie Musher's regeneration ability can't be consistently activated.

KevMoney (1558)

This my friends, is what an aggressive Green/Red Coldsnap draft deck is supposed to look like. Well, almost. THREE Ronom Hulks. Tres! Drei! That is insane. AND a Rimescale Dragon? This deck has more meat than a Brazilian churrascaria. And more lands than a British colonist. (Well, one out of two good similes isn't a bad run)

Though, KevMoney almost had the perfect deck, he was just missing a few cards. A couple of Skred or Surging Flame and Into the North so he could put his Mouth of Ronom into play.

Clone29 (1753)

After the draft, Clone explained that a first pick Juniper Order Ranger instantly set him into Green and White. The first thing you notice about his deck is the sheer power in its cards: a playset of Boreal Griffins, three Aurochs Herds three Squall Drifters and two Juniper Order Ranger. Virtually every card in the deck is above average or exceptional for its set.

The deck does have two noticeable weaknesses, no removal and a weak curve. While the former may be intentional, the latter is more detrimental the deck's objective. The deck really does need Boreal Druid or Gelid Shackles in the one slot and Sound the Call or Surging Sentinels in the three slot. Though, I might be listening too much to Noah Weil (who's going to be replaced by Steve Sadin? Blasphemy!)

Hollow0n3 (1453)

Hollow almost went for an entirely mono black build with two bombs, Herald of Leshrac and Void Maw. Though this picture says he played four copies of Feast of Flesh, in reality he actually played five. The only problem is, Hollow played a deck with almost 50% lands. You have to remember that Mishra's Bauble reduces your deck by a single slot and you should adjust accordingly.

Smooth as Eggs (1837)

The center of Smooth's deck is its three Coldsteel Hearts. With six snow lands (including a Scrying Sheets), his deck easily had the mana base to activate his two Rimewind Taskmage. It also had two different ways to win. With his four Frost Raptors, he could use evasion to fly over for the win or beat with his Ronom Hulk/Serpents, paving the way with Krovikan Whispers on anything big enough to trade.

Now take a look at each deck again, but this time try to answer these three questions (While you draft as well, you should always be asking yourself these quesitons.):

1) Does the deck have synergy? Do the cards interact well with each other?

2) How do you imagine this deck would win?

3) Does the deck have enough creatures? Does it have enough removal? What would an opening hand for this deck be?

Now that you've seen all the decks and have hopefully briefly contemplated each one, I want you to answer these three questions (If you can, post your answer in the comments section before reading the end of the article):

1) Which deck did you find was strongest?

2) Which deck did you find was weakest?

3) Who do you think won the draft?

Have you answered each question? Good. (If not, do it. Hypno Toad commands you and Ben Stiller) Let's look at what colours each player drafted and where they sat in relation to each other:


The first thing you should notice is the amount of players who drafted green. A whopping four players played green as their main colour and another used it as a splash. That's more than half the draft. The next popular colour was red (three main), followed by white (two main, two splash), blue (two main, one splash), and finally black (two main, one splash).

During the draft, when mediocre green cards were coming my way, I assumed green was open. It wasn't. Simian Brawler is not a strong enough late pick to commit to green. In my draft, I should have took note that the reason I did not see a single Ronom Hulk or Aurochs Herd was because green was being heavily drafted. Both KevMoney and Clone29 were actively cutting me off pack one, and djdark opened an Allosaurus Rider pack one which made him stay the course as well. Because of this and the Panglacial Wurm I passed, he cut me off pack two.

Throughout the draft, DjDark01 and I were competing over the same colours. I cut him off pack one and three. He cut me off pack two. Because of this Dark had to dip into white while I had sufficient cards for a weak green and red deck. In the end, both our decks suffered. KevMoney and Clone29 also fought over green, but it did not have the same impact on their draft as it did on ours.

The other drafters cooperated with each other. Both MyNameWasBob and SmoothasEggs faced little competition with their picks and drafted exceptionally strong decks. Ringo_rama and Hollow0n3 faced little competition as well, but it is arguable that black is a weaker colour in Coldsnap and as a result their decks were weaker.

Ringo_rama, KevMoney, djdark01 and Hollow0n3 lost in the first round.

Me, and Clone29 lost in the second round.

MyNameWasBob lost to Smooth as Eggs in the finals. (Did you guess correctly?)

Mistakes I made:

1) I did not pay close enough attention to the signals I was sending DjDark01.

2) I did not pay close enough attention to the signals KevMoney and Clone29 were sending me. As a result, I was cut off in both my colours and drafted a deck that was weaker than average. I should have switched to another colour or opted for a three colour deck, picking mana-fixers and snow lands higher as soon as I noticed I was being cut off pack one and two).

Last article, I mentioned that magic is a game of inches, you win by a series of small advantages, culmatively producing a victory. In no format is this more apparent than the draft. It is the reason that professional players will opt for a common removal spell over a valuable rare. By choosing the removal, they are statistically increasing the power of their deck by a single-digit percentage, but in the end- numbers add up.

There's almost no way you'll ever be able to confidently predict what colours the players sitting next to you are playing, but that does not mean you should not try. If you pass a bomb like Vexing Sphinx, it is highly likely someone sitting near you will choose blue as one of their colours. By attempting to deduce rationally what the players next to you are likely to play given the information you have available to you, you are gaining a small edge over everyone else at the table. You're gaining a small advantage.

Another inch.

Sidenote: Here's something you should do the next time you draft. Take a piece of paper, and try to deduce what colours the players next to you are drafting. When the draft is over, ask what colours they played and why they chose those colours. You may surprise yourself, you never know.

By analyzing this draft, we have done three things:

1) We've highlighted the importance of cooperating with the players next to you and the importance of reading signals.

2) We've highlighted the importance of learning from your mistakes. Use DraftCap to record every draft you make. Don't jump back in the queue as soon you lose, take time to analyze your draft and find out where you went wrong, even if you win. Don't be "Stuck in the Middle With Bruce", understand that in magic there is always room for improvement.

3) We've also highlighted the importance of knowing the set you are drafting, though this may not be clear cut. Had I understood that green was cut off by the lack of Ronom Hulks and Aurochs Herds, I could have immediately rethought my draft in the middle of the first pack.

So my fellow casual player, try to walk away knowing this: it is not hard to get better at Magic. It is a daunting task, but anyone can do it. It revolves around who can gain the most inches on the field. Make sure to analyze every draft you do. I hope you have a vague notion of the concept of signalling from this article. And for your endeavor, I leave you with a series of links to help improve your limited play:

Stuck In The Middle With Bruce by John F. Rizzo

Booster Draft Primer by Randy Buehler

Strategies and Techniques for Booster Draft by Jeff Cunningham

Magic League: The Draft by -Zeus-

Modosharks.com by Various

Drafting with Rich Archives by RIch Hoaen (His older articles are free, his newer ones are premium)

MTG.com's Limited Information Archives by Various

TCGplayer's Limited Archives by Various

Limited (Sealed and Draft) Forums on MTG.com

DraftCap by Blagware. (Use it to record your draft picks. It's always good to review your drafts so you know where you went wrong. A good friend of mine even keeps a blog where he posts and writes a review of each draft he did. Google offers free blogs via blogger, so it might be an idea if you're seriously trying to improve your limited.)

And any draft walkthrough. Remember, every set is different. It is always advisible to learn from other's experiences. Personally, I find the most comprehensive draft walkthroughs come from Modosharks. There's dozens of video walkthroughs, are they much more comprehensive than anything on StarCityGames. Plus, it's free! 

Now go gain those inches. To all mediocre casual players of the world:

For those about to draft, we salute you.

Anticipated Reaction to this Article:

Token Rocky Quote: "[When asked why he fights] Because I can't sing or dance" - Rocky

Song of the Week:  Gnarls Barkley - Run

This Week's Draft MVP: Resize 

Number of Times “Jon Finkel" appeared in this article: 0 

Note: It seems my articles are more popular than Gamer_Zer0's podcasts. This is le awesome. Even if he is paid hundreds of dollars for a job he does, I have the satisfaction of my faithful and loyal readers. You guys are le awesome and I promise that there will be more Irish dancing, drunken drafting, and zany saucy deck experiments to come. Even more if I end up failing my degree so remember to cross your fingers!

... and anyone who comments on any one of my articles in the month of April is instantly entered into a monthly drawing for a churro. The winner will be announced May 1st.

Multiple entries are permitted and encouraged.



by OKCoyote at Tue, 04/08/2008 - 19:03
OKCoyote's picture

Hey I was on a plane when your article came out.  Am I too late to be entered for the churro?

 Loved the article though - your blends of comedy and strategy are awesome every time out.  And I'm impressed with the level of detail you went to in recapping the draft.  Well done!


Re: draft viewer by Zonkothesane at Mon, 04/07/2008 - 12:22
Zonkothesane's picture

The draft viewer is essentially a fancy draftcap, and of course we know the builds and outcomes. What I'm suggesting is to arrange and examine that data in a fashion similar to this article.

by urzishra (Unregistered) (not verified) at Sun, 04/06/2008 - 12:34
urzishra (Unregistered)'s picture

great article.. love everyone of these.. especially when you went for a more informative route.. good job.

The Mist by djdark01 at Sat, 04/05/2008 - 16:31
djdark01's picture

Whoever made that movie owes me four bucks and some chesse flavored popcorn. 

Thanks for the feedback! by MirrorMage at Sat, 04/05/2008 - 16:24
MirrorMage's picture

I'm thrilled everyone enjoyed the analysis! You've all been entered into a free drawing for a Churro. (That is, if I can hunt down a Churro stand in the United Kingdom. If all else fails, I will cook a Churro from scratch. I am dead serious. I am sending this Churro)

Zonko: I think it is to some extent. If you go to the tournament center and click on the limited pro tours (Kuala Lumpur), they have a nifty feature called "Draft Viewer" (or something like that.) It provides a pick by pick for each person on the table. The problem is, that's generally the only situation when it's been applied. I don't think anyone has done the same for an "average draft". It'd be interesting to see how much impact a rare drafter or a new player has on say, an 8-4. "Hmm... that might be an idea"

Gabriel: Thanks, I love Churros too. Especially the ones from CostCo's/Kirkland. Man, I would kill to have one of those again... and their Chicken Bakes. 

Anon: Thanks, I love Coldsnap as wel! They took away my CSP leagues though ;_; I need my fix.

Hollow: I wouldn't have sided them out, I think had you had two in your opening hand, you would have done extremely well since most of his creatures were one or two toughness. I think with your deck, you could have run 15 lands, even 14, but that might be pushing it. Personally, I run less since I prefer playing more spells than my opponent over consistency.

Erham and Shard: Thanks :)

Anon: Glad you enjoyed it! I think that most skilled drafters would have spotted the blue decks. I think a lot of new player's may lean toward's Clone's of Kev's deck. It's very difficult as a new player to appreciate the importance of removal. I know I still stand confused when Rich Hoaen picks Nameless Inversion over something like Marsh Flitter or a high-power rare. 

by Shardfenix (Unregistered) (not verified) at Sat, 04/05/2008 - 11:50
Shardfenix (Unregistered)'s picture

im honestly shocked "bob" didnt win his deck looked amazing...man its been almost two years since i drafted coldsnap..those were the days..lol  Anyways good read MM and no i wont beat you with a bat...

by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Sat, 04/05/2008 - 14:16
Anonymous (Unregistered)'s picture

Great article.  I picked the final table and the outcome of that table.  It's weird.  Everyone knows that green is the best colour, but blue is the second best colour (blue always seems to be the best or second best in limited).  So with only two blue drafters I'm not at all surprised that those two decks made the finals.


Just like if there had only been 2 green drafters, those two decks should make the finals. 


Great analysis, thanks for doing this. 

by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Sat, 04/05/2008 - 02:42
Anonymous (Unregistered)'s picture

Awesome article! Great analysis, CSP is crazy to watch, and screenshots get me into the game! All round good stuffs!!

About the lands.. by Hollow0n3 at Sat, 04/05/2008 - 06:08
Hollow0n3's picture

.. I sided two of them out during sideboarding, but it didn't help much to add more removal since I lost to a near god-hand of my opponent with a manaflood on my side. Yes, after taking lands out. >_<

by Ernham Djinn (Unregistered) (not verified) at Sat, 04/05/2008 - 09:07
Ernham Djinn (Unregistered)'s picture

Yes, I liked how you examined the whole table.  Keep up the good work.

Churro! by 420gabriel (Unregistered) (not verified) at Sat, 04/05/2008 - 00:16
420gabriel (Unregistered)'s picture

Just commenting cause I love the Churros!


Good article too :) 

J'adore by Zonkothesane at Thu, 04/03/2008 - 11:12
Zonkothesane's picture

It could very well be that I'm just ignorant, but this is the first time I've seen this kind of "top-down," post-mortem approach to draft analysis. It's all fine and nice to talk about signaling from a single player's perspective; seeing the whole table is something else entirely.

 Perhaps this method could be applied to pro tour drafts?