Drafting Better 101
Hello class, and welcome to Drafting Better 101. Let’s put on our thinking caps on and… stop before I trigger flashbacks to grade school. This guide is designed to take you, the beginning-to-average Spoils player, and help you in your quest to get better. After all, to the victor go The Spoils!
The most important rule about drafting is that no drafting rule, guide, or anything else will ever apply 100%. The only problem with this rule is the fact that this one does apply 100%, despite being a guide, a drafting rule, and therefore a logic knot.
Play the table. Every draft environment is different. In some, people will pick certain trades highly, in others they will try to play some confusing, sub-optimal strategies, like pretending they can win without playing any guys before turn three. The key is, the best drafts happen by taking what’s open. If you can avoid getting cut off by the people near you, you’ll have a lot more choices and power for your draft deck. You want to have a few potential plans. Then tailor them to the specific draft as you go along.
Know the cards. This may seem like a silly thing to bring up- but it’s deeper than not needing to read cards. You need to know what the good cards are because you need to know what signals an open trade.
Think about the cards you’re passing as well as the ones you’re keeping. Generally speaking, you can help nudge the person to your left into colors through your own draft picks. This will be covered more in-depth in Drafting Better 102, the follow-up article which will hopefully exist soon.
I’m going to focus on lessons 2 and 3, as they are the most relevant to the basics of drafting. Being proficient at these strategies is enough to play quite well- in fact these two things were the primary guiding principles I used when I started playing Spoils, and were enough to win the Maryland 1.5k, the first major Spoils tournament I played. In other words, these principles may seem basic, but they will help a lot if you can learn and apply them correctly.
Playing the table has a lot of different meanings. In the first pack, it’s largely about determining the direction you want to take a draft. The most fundamental aspect of this is getting an idea for what trades you want to play during the draft. Usually, this entails designating a main trade and one or two other potential trades. Keep in mind that you won’t want to waste too many picks, as in Spoils you play a large percentage of the cards you draft, compared to other card games. Some people have spiffy acronyms on what to pick in the draft order, but in reality, this is a very complicated decision that needs to combine a number of factors, namely: the power of the card, the other cards in the pack, your personal preference, and how tough the card is to play. The most obvious of these is the power of the card, which is something I shouldn’t need to spend much time on. The other cards in the pack will get more into guide rule #4 (to be talked about more next article), and if this article is intended for you, you shouldn’t really have a style you like to play yet (personal styles are more than “OOO Horsemajig!”, it’s more like Will Morgan plays tempo, I play efficiency/control etc.).
That leaves us with how tough the card is to play. This is a big thing a lot of newer players need to work on. Cards that have a threshold of three are severely limiting. It’s so severely limiting that I actually think One-Legged Hopping Pogo Bear isn’t even good in draft. The problem isn’t that it’s a bad card, but that playing too many high-threshold cards makes you build a bad deck. Generally, and again, this is subject to rule #1; you’ll want to do one of the following:
Play two trades: a 2-threshold trade and an X-threshold trade, starting the 2, playing X in your deck.
Play two trades: a 1-threshold and an X-threshold, starting with a split.
Play 3 trades: two 1-threshold trades, and one X-threshold, starting one and one.
Play 3 trades: a 1-threshold trade, and two of X-threshold.
The first option is the most likely option for a new player because it lets you play things consistently, not sacrifice power, and have some simple options when drafting. However, to not consider the options is like always picking the well-rounded character in video games. The driver with okay speed, acceleration and handling; the golfer with okay power and control; the fighter with an okay mix of power and speed- you get the picture. Often, these are not the actual best decks; they’re more often a place to start when trying to find something new.
The second option is often difficult to pull off and can severely limit the options of the drafter. However, this option allows for some amazingly consistent decks which can always play the cards it picked. This option is frequently the best option when there is a trade clearly open or to prevent some high-threshold powerful cards from finding their way into your opponent’s deck.
Option three is another interesting and relatively consistent option, and is relatively close to the first resource base, except that it takes more planning to pull off. If, like me, you don’t want to feel like you’re locked into a trade in the first couple picks, you may want to consider taking 1-threshold cards, so that this strategy remains open to you. Things on the power level of Bipolar Sarcophyle or Lugubrious Finger Trap are often very strong, but don’t require necessarily committing to Arcanist or Rogue. Often, you can pick up enough 1-threshold cards to make a viable splash, although depending on what they are, it can be worth it to splash even for a few cards on the level of Sarcophyle or Trap. This grants some experimenting room drafting, but remains a quite stable resource base.
Option four is the most unstable option I would still recommend to a newer player. You’ll start out with your single threshold resource, and then your other starting resource will be from whichever trade has higher thresholds. You’ll need to mulligan to make sure you have the necessary resources to play the cards you want, but this deck type is very open to letting you play a variety of cards, amping up the power level at a slight risk of running into threshold problems.
One important thing to remember for all of these archetypes is that there’s no one pick worth ruining a draft for. If your first pick is: Walk the Plank, that doesn’t mean you absolutely have to play greed. You should certainly try to, and a card that good will (rightly) influence your decisions, but if you’re getting passed crazy things in warlord and elitism, it may be time to back out of banker. This is a tough thing to judge, and after getting a lone bomb is frequently when I’d try to pick up some 1-threshold goodies in some other trades while I wait to see if there’s more banker to be had.
This brings me to the “know the cards” guideline. Knowing the cards is an important part of being able to select one of these archetypes. For example, one of my favorite trades to play 1-threshold of is Arcanist, for Lugubrious Finger Trap and Napiform Protuberance (or in Seed, Fiendish Fez). Knowing that, for example, I don’t like playing 1-threshold of banker in Part 1/2 draft, I would take a Finger Trap higher than the same card with a yellow symbol. However, at the 2-threshold spot, I prefer the greed card, because I generally believe 2-threshold greed to be stronger than 2-threshold Arcanist in limited. Knowing the cards and the card pool can help you more than you can realize until you give it a whirl. Try thinking about the cards in the set(s) you’re going to draft, and note which thresholds of which trades you like playing, even which trades in general, as it should affect your decisions when you draft.
The bottom line is that you need to think about the deck you’re drafting and how the cards fit the deck, not the other way around. You should know the threshold and which trades you’re in before you even start deck building, because you were hopefully picking accordingly the entire draft. Your plans can change, but always remember to have one- don’t just take the card in front of you because you like it unless it fits your goal. Instead of drafting cards and then building a deck, cut a step and draft the deck you want.
P.S. Please make forum comments! I’d love to get some healthy discussion of the ideas I put forward here so I can focus future topics on what the community is looking for!