August 13th, 2011

games, MTGO, Niv-Mizzet

BREAD and butter

There are two primary forms of limited-cardpool tournament in Magic: The Gathering- drafts and sealed deck. I used to be bad at drafts; I've gotten quite a lot better. Meanwhile, I've run out of patience for Sealed Deck, which is both more expensive than a draft and more based on luck.

Defenders of sealed-deck play, formerly including myself, assert that the cardpool is large enough that variance tends to be evened out and most cardpools are average. That's probably true, but doesn't necessarily make for a playable game format.

I would say that about 1 in 4 cardpools are nearly unusable (or worse), and about 1 in 4 have major bombs that are actually supported by the other cards in that color. In practice, the unusable cardpools come in last, the on-color bombs win (because even a mediocre deck that at least takes the obviously good card is likely to win), and the average cardpools fight it out in the middle ranks, with the ones who are randomly selected to face a bomb deck holding a very reduced chance of winning.

This means that about 2/5 of the time, you will be playing a tournament you are unable to be competitive in through little fault of your own.

Getting to play an interesting tournament 3/5 of the time is not enough to keep me playing the 2/5 of the time I have thrown $25 and four hours away for absolutely nothing.

With drafting, I've finally learned how to reliably build a playable deck. Not necessarily a great deck, not necessarily one that puts me anywhere near the upper echelons of skilled drafters- but one that lets me enjoy the entire time. I'm finally good enough that I can play a draft and reliably enjoy it- which is what I really want for my entry fee.

In a draft, the mnemonic "BREAD" is used to suggest priority for drafting cards, and later for using them in your deck: Bombs, Removal, Evasion, Aggro, Dreck. Most importantly, you need cards that let you actually win the game if they get out and stay out; a close runner-up is being able to efficiently deal with your opponent's threats in the meantime. Evasion represents damage that's hard to block, which becomes a threat if nothing bigger comes out; aggression is based on the same concept, but without the advantage of being hard to block. Everything else is much lower priority.

In a draft, you have enough control over your card pool that you can at least get some of the cards you need. But in sealed deck, you have to hope that randomly grabbing twice as many cards is good enough. In practice, you either get excellent cards supported by their color, or you don't, and then have to hope you have enough evasive threats to make up for the lack of bombs. Whether they can last long enough is decided mostly by whether or not you have removal.

Maybe it's just my luck, but a significant number of my cardpools have no removal; more have no cards with enough power to actually have the potential to win the game. It's frustrating, and it's been made worse by the higher variance in card power in recent years; I am not of the opinion that planeswalkers help the quality of gameplay.

Not much to do about it other than stick to formats where I have more control over what cards go in my deck. Drafts "sort" cards such that they tend to coalesce in reasonably playable decks, and that's a better game experience for me.

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